Like many Biomedical Chemistry majors, Cassie Lopez had intentions of going to medical school after graduation. She took a year off to study for the entrance exam and build experience working in the ICU at a local hospital, where she worked with mostly open-heart recovery patients. While there, she attended a symposium that outlined the different members of the heart team. She heard the perfusionist describe this career that involved thinking on your feet, saving patients in emergent situations, learning the newest technologies for a field that’s still growing, and being part of a team that gives patients another chance at life. As soon as this perfusionist finished their presentation, there was no question that this was her calling. She enrolled in Barry University in Miami Shores, FL and earned a B.S. in Cardiovascular Perfusion.

SpecialtyCare perfusion scholarship winner Cassie Lopez

In 2018, Cassie came across an opportunity that would help take some financial stress away. She was thrilled to learn she had been awarded SpecialtyCare’s Brown-Brukardt Perfusion Scholarship.

“It truly was one of my most proud achievements! It offered tuition for my perfusion training, a guaranteed job with a company with more than half the nation’s perfusion accounts and opportunities to grow in many directions, whether management or research opportunities.”

Cassie said the scholarship offered “peace of mind” as she finished her training. She liked the idea of having a number of hospitals to consider employment that provided the variety of surgeries and ideal location she was looking for.

“I’m now working at JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, FL, where I’ve been blessed with surgeons, an OR team, and a perfusion team that works together with such great chemistry. SpecialtyCare helped me every step of the way, from narrowing down hospitals, setting up interviews, all the on-boarding, and even meeting the company leaders in Nashville.”

Now that you are a professional perfusionist, is it all you imagined? What are some amazing parts of this job?

I’m reminded every day why I love this field so much! We see extremely sick patients come in for surgery, place them on the heart-lung machine and act as their life support for a couple of hours and watch as they come back with a new chance at life after the surgeons repair their hearts. We help with everything cardiac: from implanting VADs or ECMO in patients who need long-term life-support, or minimally invasive TAVR patients who can leave the same day as receiving a new valve, or emergencies at all hours of the day. Perfusionists at other centers also support patients receiving heart or lung transplants, or children born with congenital malformations.

Some days are late, long and difficult for sure, but it’s all worth it to see those memorable success-story patients go home when the odds were stacked against them.

What are a few cases that really impacted you?

Some cases that have really stuck out are the ones that seem like they could happen to any of us. We once placed a patient around my age on ECMO after she lost a lot of blood during her first childbirth. She was on support for about 3 days and recovered, and thankfully the baby was okay, so that was a time I knew ECMO could work miracles and keep families together. She left the hospital and has been healthy ever since.

We once had a 36-year-old patient come for a permanent LVAD implantation, which required the heart-lung machine during the surgery, followed by shifting support to the LVAD, and then the patient required temporary right support, so we used a CentriMag pump in conjunction with the permanent HeartMate implant. A few days later, the patient coded, and I added an oxygenator to the right-sided VAD, so overall this patient used all the tricks in the perfusion hat. A week later, his right heart recovered, the oxygenator and RVAD were removed, and after a few more weeks of recovery, this patient was sent home.

What are some benefits of working at SpecialtyCare as a perfusionist?

Working at SpecialtyCare as a perfusionist has been everything I could ask for. This company values its employees, frequently checks to see if there’s anything we need or could improve on. When I was studying for perfusion certification boards after graduating, the company did all they could to make sure I was prepared both for the exam and for on-the-job scenarios with plenty of training resources and support of continuing education. The benefits are excellent, they made it stress-free to come for interviews and to relocate to my job site.

The scholarship was a blessing beyond what words can express, I’ve met amazing mentors within the company, and overall SC provides the resources and opportunities to do anything I could want in the field of perfusion. I’m thankful for all this company has done for me, and I look forward to giving back in the years to come!

SpecialtyCare is now taking applications for the 2020 Brown-Brukardt Scholarship! Deadline for entry is March 22, 2020.