ANDERSON --- Deanne Williams never knew her parents. Both died when she was an infant - their deaths just five months apart. When she was two months old, her father was killed by a drunk driver while on his way to visit her mother, who was in the hospital in Georgia suffering from brain cancer and a stroke. When Williams was about seven months old, her mother succumbed to the disease and she was left in the care of her beloved maternal grandmother, who raised her in Okinawa, Japan.
Not a day goes by that she doesn't think of her parents, whose memory she honors in her work as a family nurse practitioner at AnMed Health.
Her mission is to give back to the community. "Life is what you make of it and you only live once. So live it well and contribute all you can to society," said Williams, who was recognized by Tri-County Technical College's Alumni Association and presented its Distinguished Alumni of the Year award at the College's spring graduation.
The recipient of this award must have been awarded a degree, diploma, or certificate from Tri-County; must have graduated at least one year ago; and must have made significant contributions to the College, the Alumni Association or the community.
Williams holds three degrees from Tri-County - medical assisting (2002) and practical nursing (2003), followed by an associate degree in nursing in 2005.
"Deanne personifies the concept that a technical college education can be a springboard to becoming successful and productive," said Sandra Jordan, MSN, RD, LDN, and Tri-County adjunct instructor who nominated Williams for the Distinguished Alumni Award.
Over the years, Williams conquered hurdles, such as the language barrier (she began learning English at age 14), and academics (she didn't graduate from high school in Japan and earned her GED in the U.S. in 1995.) She lived at several foster homes in her teens. She says she battled self-esteem issues that formed during childhood and filtered into adulthood. Williams acknowledges that these fears and insecurities initially stood in the way of her success.
Growing up, there were tough years, she said. "It would have been easy to give up and give in to self-pity but that doesn't produce anything. As a child my self-worth was low because I was told by family members that I could never be anything. No one gave me hope except my maternal grandmother, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 82 after suffering from chronic illness, and my faith in Christ. I'm thankful she knew I fulfilled my dreams," said Williams.
She married her husband, Chris, a former Marine she met in Japan, and in 1993 they moved to the United States, where she continues to care for his ailing father. She earned her GED and realized nursing was her calling.
"I wanted to become a nurse but I was still learning the language and having three small children made things uncertain," she said. Before enrolling in Tri-County, she worked as an administrative assistant for a Japanese vice president in the Upstate. She enrolled in Tri-County's Medical Assisting program in 2001. She says this experience gave her a desire to challenge herself to provide better patient care by learning additional skills. She discovered she wanted to do more so she went straight into the Practical Nursing program and worked as a patient care technician in the neuroscience intensive care unit at AnMed Health. When she graduated, she worked as an LPN in the general surgical unit at AnMed Health.
"The Tri-County instructors were phenomenal - so many mentors who encouraged me to pursue my dream and who contributed to my self-confidence and courage." During this time, she was named to Who's Who Among Students in American Junior Colleges.
"Very early after admission to the Practical Nursing program, Deanne became known for her compassion and ability to get along with people," said Julie Vernon, program director for practical nursing. "Later in the year, I was surprised when I learned of her life's hardships, because her cheer and joy with life was infectious. She had truly learned to count blessings rather than trials. Her success in health care, with her pile of credentials, shows her strength of character and determination to do well in a career known for service to others. Deanne set her goals high and prevailed," said Vernon.
Williams transitioned into the RN program and graduated in May 2005. She accepted a job as an RN on the medical surgical intensive care unit at AnMed Health. Her three children were young at the time so she chose to complete her BSN online through Kaplan University, graduating summa cum laude in 2008. She enrolled in Walden University's online MSN program with a specialty in leadership and management and graduated with a 4.0 in 2011. She completed her MSN with a specialty in family nurse practitioner online in August 2014, graduating again with a 4.0 through Walden.
She moved to a case manager role and for seven years was an RN/ care coordinator for AnMed, managing and coordinating the care of pneumonia population, as well as daily care of patients to the next level of care.
Christi Evans, manager of care coordination at AnMed Health and Williams' former supervisor, said she isn't surprised that Williams is being honored by her alma mater. "What sets Deanne apart is her heart, her generosity and her giving spirit," said Evans. "She always goes above and beyond for her patients. Patient care is always her priority and she goes out of her way to provide services."
Since late January of this year, Williams has been in her current role as nurse practitioner for AnMed's oncology and hematology specialists.
"With direct collaboration with Dr. DeLo and Dr. Nayak, I now have the ability to coordinate patient care in a different level and be a part of a team that compassionately commits to the care of hematology and oncology patients and families," she said.
When Williams was an adjunct clinical instructor for Tri-County's associate degree nursing program in 2012, she told students they may be the first smile a patient sees, urging them to be respectful, professional and compassionate at all times.
Recognizing that some of her students were struggling with some of the same doubts and insecurities she had when younger, she says, "I told them if I can do it, so can you."
Williams was inducted into Gamma Mu Chapter of the Sigma Theta Tau national honor society in 2009 and is a graduate of the Leadership Alignment Education Development Program at AnMed (2009).
She also is a recipient of the Carolina Healthcare Systems' Silver Touchtone award for the Clinical Outcomes Division for the Transition of Care from Hospital to Home Health Program (2014) and was a nominee for the 10th Annual AnMed Health Medical Center's Gladys Grantland Extraordinary Woman in Clinical Excellence Award (2015) and was a presenter at the 11th Annual Extraordinary Women in Healthcare event. She is a graduate of the AnMed Health Differentiology Leadership Academy (2015) and received the American Nurses Credentialing Center Family Nurse Practitioner Certification.
She is an active member of Temple Baptist Church in Anderson, where she works with the Hope Delivered committee which is focused on the less fortunate citizens of Anderson.
"I share an "on call nurse" role at Temple Baptist Church with Deanne and other very qualified nurses," said Vernon. "As nurse educators, it is so exciting and fulfilling to see your former students become very capable colleagues. I am thankful that Deanne is my colleague and friend."
"It is evident from her accomplishments that Deanne has endeavored to pursue excellence in the field of nursing. It is evident she is willing to patiently pursue difficult long-term goals. She has instilled her goal of lifelong learning in her three children, ages 23, 20 and 19," said Jordan.
"Deanne is one of the most caring and compassionate health care professionals you will ever be privileged to meet. She is the one whom you want looking after your beloved," Jordan added.