Love our nurses? Tell BJC about it

May 9, 2012

At Barnes-Jewish Hospital, we love our nurses. The Rare Gift has an especially warm place in our heart for transplant nurses – from operating room nurses to the ICU and floor nurses to the transplant coordinators.

This week is national Nurses Week and to honor nurses in the BJC HealthCare system, our sister website,, has a forum just for people to share stories about their favorite nurses. You can add a story at

In the meantime, read this comment that Pat Janssen, wife of a liver recipient, left about Barnes-Jewish transplant coordinator Jessica Wagner:

My husband was placed on the Liver Transplant list March of 2011, he was given a transplant coordinator, Jessica Wagner. Any concerns or questions we could contact her. “OMG” she has been a true gift from GOD to us.

All concerns & Anxieties, she has always been able to put to rest for us.
Any time we called her, if she was on another call within minutes she always
called us back.

My husband was in the hospital on 3 occasions as a back-up for the transplant.

After every discharge as the back-up patient, we would no sooner get home and Jessica was calling to talk to my husband to make sure he was OK due to not receiving the transplant. To settle his anxieties and to make sure his mental state was OK.

In July 2011, my husband got the transplant, there was never a day that she didn’t check on him at the hospital & check on me as his wife as well.
All the medications for rejection that he is on any questions or concerns, she always gets the answers for us ASAP.

This wonderful lady has become almost like a family member of ours. She always has A beautiful smile, no matter how tough her day has been. She is one of a kind, we are so grateful she was the one chosen to be our transplant coordinator. The aren’t words to express how easy she made our waiting & the anxieties associated with being on the transplant list.

If hospitals had more nurses like her, it certainly would make your stay almost a pleasure.

How many of us can say we look forward to Dr. Appts. We do because we know we are also going to see Jessica, hear that wonderful laugh of hers and see that beautiful smile.

And just for fun, check out this video of nurses across Barnes-Jewish doing a Nurses Week happy dance.

The transplant matchmaker: Barnes-Jewish HLA lab

April 24, 2012

In the Barnes-Jewish HLA lab

More than 400 people work in the laboratories at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Most patients never see them, but their work is vital – helping doctors make diagnoses, pointing the way to an effective treatment, and even giving some patients a second chance at life. During Laboratory Professionals Week, we salute the people who work in the labs, especially one very specialized lab – the Barnes-Jewish human leukocyte antigen (HLA) laboratory.

The HLA lab is the hospital’s transplant matchmaker. This is where organ donors’ blood and tissue are matched with potential recipients and where bad matches are ruled out. In this lab, there’s no such thing as a “routine” test.

And the folks who work in the HLA lab know just how life-changing their work can be. Read more about this lab here.

Barnes-Jewish liver transplant nurse is patient’s “Guiding Light”

April 18, 2012

Martha Stipsits, RN, CCTN (left), Pam Thurston, RN, CCTN (center) and Ron Penoyer (right).

The Guiding Light was the longest running drama in television history. The show’s title came from a lamp shining in the window of one character’s house  as a beacon to guide people looking for comfort or advice.  A Barnes-Jewish Hospital transplant nurse, Pam Thurston, RN, CCTC, was honored on Transplant Nurses Day, April 18, as a “Guiding Light” for her patients by the International Transplant Nurses Society (ITNS).

Thurston received the honor because an essay, written by Thurston’s patient, liver transplant recipient Ron Penoyer, was chosen as the winner of the ITNS annual essay contest. This year’s theme was “My Transplant Nurse: My Guiding Light.” 

Penoyer surprised Thurston by coming to the Barnes-Jewish Transplant Nurses Day lunch to help her manager Martha Stipsits, RN, CCTC, present the award.  Penoyer has been Thurston’s patient since his liver transplant in 2005.

“I want to congratulate Pam on the award,” said Gene Ridolfi, director of the Washington University/Barnes-Jewish Hospital Transplant Center, after the presentation. “She does a wonderful job and deserves this honor.  I also want to congratulate all the transplant nurses and staff at Barnes-Jewish. I know how hard you all work at being guiding lights for our patients. “

“On behalf of the board of directors, I would personally like to extend my congratulations to Pam and all of the nominees–you truly epitomize the art of transplant nursing,” said ITNS board member Patti Pfeiffenberger in a news release sent out by the organization. “Your thoughtful and compassionate care has greatly impacted your patients’ lives. Transplant nursing is a calling and it is a privilege to care for transplant patients.”

Two other Barnes-Jewish transplant nurses, kidney transplant nurse coordinator Andrea Markwart, RN, CCTC, and lung transplant nurse coordinator Masina Scavuzzo, RN, CCTC, were also nominated as “Guiding Lights” by their patients.

Here’s an excerpt from Ron Penoyer’s winning essay:

I met Pam, my transplant nurse and coordinator, on one of the most difficult days of my life…. I remember when she came into the consultation room, she was smiling broadly and she enveloped me, almost instantly, in a big warm hug, as though I was a long-lost friend she had not seen in years. Meeting Pam was like returning to a home I didn’t know I had… Through it all, Pam has been my north star, a calm and steady point in an uncertain world… I don’t know how Pam does her job. I’m just grateful she does it.

Transplant coordinator Jean Bowe is pure gold

November 29, 2011

One of the most important relationships a transplant patient forms – at Barnes-

Jean Bowe with kidney donor Cindy Clouse

Jewish Hospital, at least – is with their transplant nurse coordinator. 

The transplant coordinator not only acts as a liaison between the patient and the medical team caring for them, but also educates the patient and their family about transplant, guides the patient through pre-transplant evaluation and post-transplant testing, but often arranges the logistics of the transplant itself.  It’s a hard job.

But Barnes-Jewish is lucky to have transplant coordinators who do that hard job very well, and often for a long time.

One of those is Jean Bowe, who has been a transplant coordinator for 20 of the 25 years she’s been a nurse. Jean, with colleague Jennifer Colletta, coordinates many of the living donor kidney transplants at Barnes-Jewish. She was also worked closely with transplant administration and Washington University transplant physicians in setting up the Barnes-Jewish paired kidney exchange program.

Recently, Jean was honored for her work at the Barnes-Jewish Employee Recognition Awards ceremony as one of the David A. Gee Meritorious Service Award winners. These winners are honored for going above and beyond their  job description. They’re nominated by their co-workers or managers, then vetted by a panel of administrators, managers and other employees.

Jean was nominated by Gene Ridolfi, transplant center director, who said in a video shown at the ceremony that Jean “exemplifies the kind of employee any manager or director would love to have.” More than that, he said, she is always open to improving herself so she can give her patients better care, and  “she is recognized nationally as a ‘go-to person’ in the field” of paired kidney exchange.

Ridolfi also thanked Jean for her commitment to the hospital, to transplant and to her patients.

At the ceremony, Jean and the other David A. Gee Award winners received gold-colored employee badges. These badges are kind of a big deal around Barnes-Jewish. Not only do you get a free parking spot in the garage (quite the perk on this campus), but people with gold badges have a certain cachet about them. They’re known as extraordinary performers.  They’re like the Seal Team 6 of the hospital.

Now, all of our transplant coordinators are special – you have to be to do the job. But if you run into Jean, just know that you’ve come across someone who’s pure gold.




Courageous breath: Conclusion – living life

November 9, 2011

Tom Nate, surrounded by fellow joggers

The Rare Gift first found out about lung transplant recipient Tom Nate when Barnes-Jewish Hospital lung transplant social worker Rebecca Bathon sent us an email with a couple of photos and this message:

“This is a great story about one of our lung transplant patients who has had two transplants.  He also serves as a mentor and reaches out to many, many patients in our program.  Might be worth running a story..”
We totatlly agreed. Today, we’ll conclude Tom’s story with an update about his latest adventure – a “jogathon.”

The event that Rebecca sent you pictures of is called the Geneva School of Boerne Annual Jogathon. 

Geneva is a private Christian school offering Classical Christian curriculum to its students and it is a wonderful “family” of people that have all been involved in our journey during both of my transplants. 

The Jogathon is the biggest fundraiser for the schools scholarship fund and financial aid program. Students go out and recruit monetary pledges based on how many laps they will run on the jogathon course, or they get pledges for blanket donations.  Each classroom has a theme and parents, grandparents and friends are encouraged to attend and participate with their student to support them. It’s an all-day affair.

Each team runs the course (a lap is a little over 1/4 mile) for 45 minutes to jog, walk or run as many laps as they can. So my son Joshua and I started together and he left me behind pretty easily!  

Joshua jogged 16 laps and I managed to jog six laps, with some resting in between as needed.  For comparison, I did jog with Joshua in the jogathon back in 2007 after my first transplant, but only managed about two laps and was very fatigued afterwards. 

This one was entirely different, much better and easier, except the asphalt course took its toll on my legs and knees.  But it was an exhilarating day and a huge memory for me! 

Tom, "living Life"

I really do have to stop and remind myself on many days that I indeed did go through this amazing journey,  and I am not only still here but here and able to “live Life!”  Truly, truly blessed and also truly, truly thankful for all the wonderful professionals and the transplant team at Barnes-Jewish who saved my life twice. Next to God and my amazing wife,  they are all our heroes!

Physician of the week: Dr. Jeffrey Lowell

September 27, 2011

Here’s a little test. Which of the following does not apply to Washington

Biker Dr. Jeff Lowell (right) with fellow transplant surgeons at the MS150

University transplant surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Lowell?

a. He’s a Navy reservist who recently completed a six-month tour in Germany, operating on soldiers evacuated from combat zones.

b. He’s a black belt in karate.

c. He was a member of the St. Louis City Police hostage negotiation team.

d. He was medical emergency preparedness advisor to then-Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

d. He has a brother who’s not a doctor, but has played on TV (as a guest star on “Bones.”)

e. One time, he did something only halfway.

If you picked “e,” you’re correct.  Dr. Lowell never does things halfway.

That includes saving lives by transplanting livers and kidneys at both Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

We could keep listing his accomplishments – like director of the regional medical emergency response team, fencer, runner, husband and father, etc. – but space is limited.

So watch the video and hear about how he approaches his “day job.”

Nursing patients back to (a second chance at) life

August 16, 2011

Doctors get a lot of the glory for performing transplants and managing patient

Liver transplant patient Darryl Dunn and transplant nurse coordinator Velva Pryor, RN, CTNC

care before and after surgery. No doubt, it’s deserved. But working shoulder-to-shoulder with those physicians, literally in some case, are transplant nurses. And they deserve some glory, too.

More than 300 nurses at Barnes-Jewish Hospital work with transplant patients, in roles ranging from transplant coordinator to intensive care nurse to scrub nurse to floor nurse to case manager.

Patients may never see some of these nurses, like the highly specialized transplant team members in the operatings rooms. Others, like our certified transplant nurse coordinators who coordinate the patients’ transplant-related care  for the life of their transplanted organ – basically the rest of their lives – become like members of the patients’ families.

Wherever they work, Barnes-Jewish transplant nurses share one thing – a dedication to helping patients make the most of their second chance at life.

Watch some of our transplant nurses in this video from last year’s Transplant Nurses Day at Barnes-Jewish:  

-Kathryn Holleman



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