In her career as a Registered Nurse and a Nurse Practitioner, Patti Vara has worked in a variety of health care institutions in various roles. Her focus has always been clinically oriented. She enjoys interactions with patients and their families, in a very hands-on manner. It is in these areas that she feels she can make the most difference for the individuals she serves.

Her passion is service. In 1995, she was invited to volunteer with The Order of Malta’s American Association on their annual pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. The Order of Malta is a group of Catholic lay people who provide service to the church and community, nurturing, witnessing and protecting the faith and by providing assistance to the poor and the suffering.

Each year the associations take sick and disabled individuals (malades-the French term for the sick) and caregivers to Lourdes. Lourdes is one of the world’s most popular pilgrimage sites among the sick. The church has recognized 70 miracles and certified another 2,000 inexplicable cures. While physical cures are rare, many people experience acceptance of their illness and inner peace. Being a part of that is a true gift for Patti.

In Lourdes, her role is to assist in the care of the malades, both emotionally and medically. Over the years she has cared for over 1,000 malades. In caring for the malades, she is able to combine her spiritual beliefs and her nursing expertise.

A very important part of the pilgrimage is selecting appropriate candidates to make the trip. For over 10 years, Patti has been on the Malade Selection Committee. Her nursing assessments of the malades has helped to determine who comes on the pilgrimage. Over the past few years, she has served as the Chief Nursing Officer for the pilgrimage. In this role she oversees the team of nurses and student nurses.

“It is a special experience, working side by side with faith filled individuals who share a common interest,” Patti says. “It is an honor and privilege to serve those who are sick and suffering.”

Lourdes on pilgrimage is an opportunity for Patti to work with a talented group of health care professionals to provide quality, compassionate care to those who are entrusted.

The scale of this annual pilgrimage to Lourdes is remarkable. All Malta Associations globally participate; the American Association alone charters a jet to carry 450 people, 55 whom are ‘malades’ and caregivers with expenses covered by Malta members.

“The one-on-one encounters with the malades is the most special experience,” Patti said. “I have had so many and would like to share one with you. I had the opportunity to care for a young man named Jim who had ALS. He and his wife came to Lourdes, knowing his health was rapidly declining. A few days into the pilgrimage, Jim’s condition worsened; nevertheless, Jim went into the Baths for healing. While in the water, Jim was described as ‘having a glow about him’; he had a radiant smile and he was filled with a peace.”

“Jim’s wife perceived the Baths as a ‘turning point’ for him,” Patti continued. “She believed Jim realized the physical cure he had hoped for was not God’s plan, and it wasn’t. Jim asked God for His mercy. Two days later, God answered that prayer.”

This is the compassion of nurses we recognize as part of the Nurses With Global Impact mission. Nurses bring comfort to those who are suffering, not only the patients themselves, but their friends, families and communities.

Sometimes nurses are present for the beginning of life; sometimes the are present for the transition of life into death and wherever the spirit travels. While we all come from different faiths and belief systems, we universally appreciate the care, the kindness and compassion of nurses like Patti, and it is a great honor to honor her work on May 11, 2018 at the United Nations, celebrating International Nurses Day.

– Deb

In caring for Jim, I was so moved at the love and devotion he and his wife had for each other. Their faith at this most trying time was so strong. In health care, we are accustomed to using our scientific knowledge to heal and cure. Sometimes a cure is not what happens. Observing Jim’s faith has brought me a stronger faith in God, one that I bring to each and every individual I encounter in her profession of nursing. Her volunteer work with the Order of Malta is deeply fulfilling. Through her service with the Order, I have learned that I am able to join her nursing knowledge, her faith and her love of service. I thank God for giving me these gifts that I may use and share with others.