Do you know what a perfusionist does? They are a vital member of the cardiovascular surgical team by operating a heart-lung machine while patients undergo open-heart surgeries, assuming the functions of these organs during the medical procedure as well as operating the Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine for patients in intensive care.
By managing the physiological and metabolic demands of the patient while the cardiac surgeon operates on the heart, perfusionists are highly trained professionals with a thorough understanding of both the respiratory and circulatory systems and are able to operate complex equipment. These health care professionals are in great demand.
We recently caught up with Nicole Samouilhan, a cardiovascular perfusionist working at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH).
Prior to becoming a perfusionist, Nicole was a respiratory therapist (RT) and ECMO specialist at B.C. Children's Hospital. "In this capacity, I was exposed to the role of the perfusionist both at the bedside and in the operating room," she says. "I was drawn to the teamwork, autonomy, high level of responsibility and the critical nature of the job."
Nicole enjoys working with her team of highly skilled colleagues in various environments to provide extraordinary lifesaving interventions to the most critically ill patients. She points out that while the role can be highly stressful at times, some of the most inspirational moments can come from interactions with those patients and their families.
"Our team works together to cover emergencies day and night," she says. "We share call hours to try to avoid fatigue and support each other when someone has a particularly difficult case or series of calls. As a new perfusionist, I have had ongoing support from all of my colleagues and know that I can call on them for help anytime."
Nicole began her role as a perfusionist during the COVID-19 pandemic and quickly became accustomed to having six or more ECMO patients in the ICU, when typically there are up to two, on top of the usual cardiac surgery caseload. "The heavy workload placed resource strains on our department," she shares. "However, as a team, we were able to maintain the high level of support these patients required. I am so proud of my colleagues for their dedication and endless work to support the sickest patients during this pandemic."
Please join us in celebrating perfusionists across Vancouver Coastal Health during National Perfusion Week (April 29 to May 5). We are thankful for your commitment to delivering exceptional patient care across our organization.