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The role of nursing in heart transplants: Q&A with OR Cardiac Service Leader Cathy Craig, RN

OR Cardiac Service Leader Cathy Craig, RN, has been an operating room nurse at Tufts Medical Center for 32 years. She shared her thoughts on the cardiac nurse’s important role in heart transplant surgeries.

What does your job entail?

My job is to make sure that everything is ready to go in the OR for cardiac surgeries; this includes ensuring that the room is ready, all the proper equipment is in place, the right staff is on hand and the patient has everything they need for their procedure. 

What are the different nursing roles during a heart transplant?

There are two roles that nurses can play in the OR for every heart transplant – a surgical scrub and a circulating nurse. The surgical scrub stands by the side of the surgeon to make sure they have the right equipment when they need it. The circulating nurse is the “captain of the ship” – this nurse makes sure every member of the surgical team is on the same page for each individual case and serves as the key communicator between the donor family and recipient in heart transplants. 

Why do you enjoy being a part of heart transplants?

Heart transplants are my favorite cases. Even though I’ve been involved in hundreds of heart transplants at Tufts MC over 32 years, I never get tired of seeing a donated heart come to life. It amazes me every single time. I love meeting the patients, talking with them before surgery and making sure they receive excellent care. It’s wonderful to see how hopeful the patients are and I feel good knowing we are helping give the patient a chance. That’s what drives me every day.

What are the biggest challenges in your job?

Our jobs are physically, mentally and emotionally demanding, but it is an honor to give our patients the very best care, and work with an incredible team of surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists, surgical and anesthesia techs and perfusionists, who are not only dedicated to our patients, but also to each other. Despite the long hours that it takes to perform a heart transplant, we share a common goal that keeps us going – our patients. Being able to give a patient a new heart and a new lease on life is priceless and worth every minute spent in the OR. 

Is there anything else you would like people to know about being a part of a heart transplant team?

It’s really a true team effort of people dedicated to something wonderful. We have the same goal and no one ever complains about being tired, hungry or thirsty despite standing and working with laser focus for hours at a time. We stick it out together and do it for our patients. It makes me feel very proud to be a cardiac surgical nurse at Tufts Medical Center.