The memory of the moment still brings Starla DeBord to tears.

Starla DeBord, a nurse clinician in Perioperative Services, is June’s Employee of the Month. To nominate someone for this recognition, visit .

Her friend, cardiovascular surgeon Steven Goldberg, M.D., lay on the operating table waiting for his own open-heart surgery.

“I was a little apprehensive when I saw he was on the surgery schedule,” says DeBord, a nurse clinician in Perioperative Services. “It was just phenomenal to be with him and hold his hand when he went to sleep and be there afterward when he woke up.”

The kindness DeBord showed Goldberg is evident in her work every day. Her caring touch with patients and tireless work ethic are just a few of the reasons DeBord has been selected June’s Employee of the Month.

Goldberg says he remembers feeling comfortable just before his surgery, and the reason was DeBord.

“Starla’s was the last face I saw before drifting off into the anesthetic ether, and above her mask were those familiar eyes that have cared for thousands more like myself,” Goldberg says. “I knew then, and know now, that she has the skill, the knowledge and – most of all – the caring to represent the ideals of the Nightingale Pledge laid down long ago.

“I can say without reservation that Starla represents the highest echelon of nursing excellence, practicing her craft with natural skill and uncommon devotion.”

DeBord graduated from UAB and began working in the cardiovascular operating room in August 1983. She has been a part of the same team for 24 years.

“I’ve never left and never wanted to,” she says.

DeBord is, essentially, a surgeon’s assistant. She has to know her doctor’s tendencies, what he wants done and when he wants it. No one was more demanding — or more of a perfectionist — than Albert Pacifico, M.D., says DeBord.

She assisted Pacifico, a long-time cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon, for 21 years before his retirement. She says Pacifico likened the working relationship with DeBord to a marriage.

“I said, ‘That’s right. I’ve only wanted to divorce you twice,’” DeBord says. “He just laughed and said, ‘That’s pretty good odds for 21 years.’”

DeBord was assigned to Pediatric Cardiovascular Surgery after Pacifico’s retirement. There she was paired with Pediatric Cardiovascular Surgery Chief Christopher Knott-Craig, M.D., who was transitioning to UAB from Oklahoma City this past summer.

Knott-Craig says DeBord took the initiative to organize his operating room, arrange his instruments and order replacements when necessary. She also contacted a colleague from his previous employer to learn and implement his surgical preferences and generally create an efficient and friendly environment to initiate the complex neonatal cardiac surgery.

“It takes time to build up trust with a surgeon,” DeBord explains. “It took a few months for all of us to relax. But now, we work in concert, like a symphony.”

Knott-Craig appreciates DeBord’s attention to detail that makes everything run smoothly. “Starla is one of those exceptional employees who take pride in providing excellence in their roles as employees of a prestigious institution,” he says. “She is unusually talented as a scrub nurse who specializes in cardiac cases. In addition, she is a role model for trainees, and an esteemed colleague to me.”

DeBord also has represented UAB by co-authoring publications in AORN Journal, the peer-reviewed journal of the professional association for operating room registered nurses. This past fall an article by DeBord, Cecile Cherry and Carol Hickey on “The modified Bentall procedure for aortic root replacement” was published in the journal. A second article has been accepted for publication.

DeBord says she knew she would be a nurse from the time she was 12. She says she’s always wanted to help people and is especially grateful for the opportunity now to help children. “To have a part in helping someone so small have a life is overwhelming,” she says.