Behind a transplant surgeon like Daniel Kreisel, MD, PhD, is a dedicated interdisciplinary team of doctors, nurses and coordinators to care for the complex needs of transplant patients.
As most transplant patients will tell you, the transplant coordinator—a nurse dedicated to coordinating every facet of the transplant process—is a crucial member of the team. And Masina Scavuzzo, RN, BSN CCTC, is a name that stands out among the people she’s cared for over the last 30 years.
When patients have chronic lung disease and respiratory failure due to conditions such as cystic fibrosis, pulmonary fibrosis, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Masina is the personal resource who ensures they receive the care they need when they need it.
Making a difference to my patients and seeing them get a second chance at life, while supporting the lung transplant team in all of our endeavors, keeps me going and fuels my passion for lung transplantation,” she says.
Become a Nurse Coordinator
Masina got her start in Toronto more than 30 years ago as a nurse working in the intensive care unit, where she often encountered lung transplant patients postoperatively. She knew that transplant coordinators who care for this population require a lot of compassion and patience. After all, these professionals must deal with the emotional strains of helping patients get healthy enough to be listed for an organ transplant, coaching them through long waits, and supporting them as they face discouraging statistics.
When a transplant coordinator position opened up, she knew she’d be a fit. She applied and got the job—and the rest is history.
“Back in 1988 when I took this position in Toronto, I would not have thought that I would still be doing this 30 years later,” says Masina. “But I feel like I’ve made a difference with this population of patients, and I enjoy working with them through the good and the bad.”
Helping Patients Every Step of the Way
Masina is one of 11 transplant coordinators at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. As a pre-transplant coordinator, she assists patients from the time of referral until they receive a transplant. She helps patients through the transplant process during their illness and encourages ongoing participation in pulmonary rehab. She also arranges testing to update patients’ lung allocation score (LAS)—a system to assign priority for transplantation—in the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) waiting list.
“All of these patients have lost lung function, and many need oxygen around the clock,” Masina says. “Over time, it becomes more difficult to sustain life and maintain oxygenation. So, it is important to evaluate these patients regularly. They need to be sick enough to need a transplant but not so sick and weak that the chances of a successful outcome could be in jeopardy.”
But the care she provides goes beyond physical health; part of Masina’s job is to keep patients motivated even when they feel like giving up. “The patients have a hard time with the wait,” she says. “Some get very anxious every time the phone rings. If they see others being transplanted and they are still waiting, they feel discouraged. You just give encouragement and try to get them refocused on the big picture. I treat my patients like I would want my own family members treated.”
Bringing the Transplant Program to New Frontiers
While in Toronto, Masina worked closely with G. Alexander Patterson, MD, the namesake of Dr. Kreisel’s endowed distinguished chair (see p. 10), and valued mentor to many in the field. Both Masina and Dr. Patterson eventually ended up at Barnes-Jewish and Washington University School of Medicine, where they now are integral parts of one of the highest volume lung transplant centers in the country.
She enjoys being a mentor to young physicians and staying involved in the larger transplant field, something she learned from Dr. Patterson early on. “It’s important to stay involved and step out of your comfort zone at times to remain engaged and energized. That was a quality that Dr. Patterson encouraged in me as a new coordinator. It feels good when you help to sculpt the career of some of these surgeons and pulmonary physicians. I remain friends with many of them to this day.”
One of these physicians was Dr. Kreisel, the inaugural recipient of G. Alexander Patterson, MD / Mid-America Transplant Endowed Distinguished Chair in Lung Transplantation. Masina started working with Dr. Kreisel when he trained as a fellow in cardiothoracic surgery at Barnes-Jewish.
“He is a great catch for the lung transplant program because he is a great basic science researcher.” This research, she says, is essential to keeping the transplant center at the forefront of the field. “His passion for lung transplantation, his ongoing research to try to improve outcomes, and his efforts to utilize as many donor lungs as possible,” makes him integral to the team, she says.
She continues: “All of this research is paying off and contributing to expanding the donor pool so we can transplant more people. There are more patients in need than organs available, so we have to be careful stewards of donor organs.”