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Comedian Tracy Morgan presents annual award to nurse from JFK’s Brain Trauma Unit

From left: Pamela Ogarek, RN; comedian and actor Tracy Morgan; Jackie Chirichella, RN; and Sara Cuccurullo, M.D., vice president and medical director, JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute.

Actor and comedian Tracy Morgan presented his annual “Tracy Morgan Award for Excellence in Rehabilitation Nursing” to a health care professional who has dedicated her career to patients with brain injuries.

Morgan presented the annual award on April 22 to Pamela Ogarek, RN, who has worked in the Brain Trauma Unit at Hackensack Meridian JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute since 1997.

Morgan presented the award after his performance at the Hackensack Meridian Health Theater at the Count Basie Center for Performing Arts on April 22, according to information provided by the healthcare system.

In 2014, Morgan was in a coma after a serious vehicle accident on the New Jersey Turnpike. He was treated at the JFK Johnson Center for Brain Injuries and frequently shares his experiences to thank his caregivers and to inspire others with brain injuries.

“For me to be a part of presenting this award every year, it’s a blessing. It’s a blessing to me,” Morgan said after he presented the award to Ogarek, according to the statement. “I know the recipients of this award are people helping others. They are in service to others. That is the way to heaven.”

Addressing Ogarek, Morgan said, “I make people laugh. I make all these people laugh. But you are saving lives.”

Ogarek, who lives in Brick Township and has spent much of her career working night shifts, thanked Morgan for the award.

“To be recognized for excellence in nursing, that is so meaningful to me. When you work nights, you are not easily seen,” she said in the statement. “I apply myself to excellence and am detail oriented. It is wonderful to be appreciated with this honor.”

Morgan starred for seven seasons on NBC’s Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning “30 Rock.” He also was a cast member for seven seasons on “Saturday Night Live.”

“We are thankful to Tracy Morgan for continuing to shine a light on the skill, compassion, and specialized training of the rehabilitation nurses who work at the HMH JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute,” Dr. Sara Cuccurullo, medical director and vice president of JFK Johnson, said in the statement.

Morgan visited JFK Johnson last year and met with current and former patients with brain injuries. His story of recovery as he has returned to acting and a rigorous stand-up tour — as well as producing and starring in “The Last O.G.” — inspires other patients who have experienced brain injuries, according to the statement.

Ogarek began her career as a patient care technician at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute in 1993. She continued working as she earned a Bachelor of Arts from Rutgers University in 1996 and her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from William Paterson University in 1997.

After completing her nursing degree, Ogarek wanted to return to the Brain Trauma Unit, part of the JFK Johnson Center for Brain Injuries, where she had previously worked as a patient care technician. She found the process of helping brain injury patients recover their abilities extremely gratifying and fulfilling, according to the statement.

“You help someone learn to eat again, or to walk again. Maybe they suddenly start to remember events in their lives. You help them become themselves again. It requires patience and can take a long time. But seeing people improve is extraordinary,” Ogarek said in the statement.

Ogarek said brain injury patients often do not sleep well so the nights can be very busy, and she has much interaction with patients. Patients and their families often ask about Morgan.

“Tracy’s recovery means a lot to our patients,” Ogarek said in the statement. “His amazing recovery gives hope to other patients.”

Dr. Brian Greenwald, medical director of the JFK Johnson Center for Brain Injuries, directed Morgan’s care and treatment.

“It’s inspiring for all of us to see Tracy continuing to succeed in what he wants to do in life. That’s what we want for all our patients,” Greenwald said in the statement.


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