The bright lobby of the Sharp Senior Health Center in Clairemont Mesa was filled to capacity with clinic nurses, staff, patients and their families, friends and colleagues who were there to mark a very special milestone: Dr. Brian First, board-certified internal medicine doctor affiliated with Sharp Community Medical Group and medical director of the Sharp Senior Health Centers, was being honored with his 500th Guardian Angel Award.
The Guardian Angel program allows grateful patients and their families to honor Sharp doctors and caregivers for exceptional care. Each recipient of an award receives a beautiful card and lapel pin to honor his or her work on behalf of patients. Dr. First's clinic includes many such cards and notes from patients and their families.
"It is so exciting to do this again and again," said Bill Littlejohn, CEO and senior vice president of the Sharp HealthCare Foundation, noting that Dr. First receives roughly 50 Guardian Angel awards a year, which averages out to nearly one per week.
"This award recognizes Dr. First for who he is, what he does and the way he lives The Sharp Experience," said Littlejohn. "Because of what he does for all of his patients, he makes a difference in so many lives."
One of those patients is Jeanne Warnke, who recently celebrated a milestone of her own. "I think he is a wonderful doctor," she says. "He got me to 90 years!" Dr. First recently cleared Warnke to skydive for her 90th birthday. "Well, he didn't say yes, but he didn't say no," she noted with a smile.
Debbie Gianulis was also there to honor Dr. First, who treated her husband for multiple sclerosis and degenerative spine issues for many years, before her husband passed away four years ago. Caregivers told her they had never seen someone with these health conditions cared for the way her husband was cared for, she said.
Dr. First was humbled by the recognition. "This is a team effort," he said, looking at the gathered crowd. "These awards really should be given to everyone in the clinic. The notes always say, 'Thank you to you and your staff.' It's always been a pleasure to work here."
As the question turned to what's next for Dr. First, Cheryl Bear, a patient for nearly 40 years said, "I hope he's here for another 10 years!"