Physician Assistants: Invaluable Part of the Health Care Team

October 10, 2014

Care team including cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Jeanne Cleveland,

Elizabeth Boyle, CCRN, and PA Ellen Kister discuss a patient.

Physician assistants (PA) are an essential part of clinical care teams across multiple specialties and across Mercy. PAs work with surgeons in operating rooms, with critical care doctors in intensive care units and on hospital floors, as well as in primary care physician offices.

For cardiothoracic PAs, helping during a surgery is nothing new. But just over a year ago – coincidentally during PA Week 2013 – PA Ellen Kister helped save a life outside the operating room. After assisting on a valve replacement surgery earlier in the day and rounding in the cardiovascular ICU, Kister was headed to rest in a call room when she received an emergency page to the room of the valve patient.

“I ran down the hall and heard the charge nurse, Admir, call for a rapid infuser and more blood,” Kister said. “When I arrived, the ICU team was already responding to the code allowing me to call the on-call surgeon, Dr. Jeanne Cleveland, and contact the OR team. That’s when I heard they lost the femoral pulse.”

Kister again called Dr. Cleveland, Mercy Clinic cardiothoracic surgeon, still a few minutes away, and they decided it was best to proceed with an emergency re-sternotomy (opening the incision to relieve pressure built up by blood in the chest cavity).

“As I opened the incision and removed the sternal wires, there was a release of blood and I heard ‘We have a femoral pulse,’” Kister recalled.

Kister said she will never forget hearing the words, “We have a beating heart. I can see the beating heart.”

Dr. Cleveland arrived as the team began working to find the source of the bleed. Once they located and controlled the source, the team continued surgery in the patient room until the he was stable enough for transport to the operating room where PA Kara Sopp-Harres took over. The patient is doing well and says he feels better now than he’s felt in a long time.

“PAs are an invaluable part of our practice and are in the hospital 24/7,” Dr. Cleveland said. “The minutes before a surgeon arrives at the hospital can be life or death. In this case, Ellen’s work with this patient in those 10 minutes saved his life.”

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