Heart Failure Champion Inspired by Niece’s Plight

As terrifying as it was to experience her newborn niece undergoing open heart surgery for Tetralogy of Fallot, a rare congenital heart condition characterized by a combination of heart defects, Sarah Gemerek says it was the surgical team and nurses who made her family confident that her niece would pull through and make it home.

Inspired by that caring medical team, she started her own nursing career at Albany Med in 2015, nine years after her niece’s surgery.

“I knew that nursing would be the right fit because I love medicine, I’m a caretaker at heart, and I would be able to help families get through monumental moments like what we had faced,” said Gemerek, RN, BSN.

Given her interest in cardiac surgery, Gemerek was delighted to start her nursing career in post-cardiothoracic surgery.

“Pre-and post-surgical nursing care is complex and so important in patient outcomes; it involves an array of critical-thinking skills, medication literacy, the ability to review telemetry and labs prior to administering medications, as well as ensuring our patients have the knowledge and resources to care for themselves following discharge,” she said.

Gemerek also is an instrumental part of the Heart Failure Quality Improvement team and is the Heart Failure Champion for her unit, where she is responsible for educating staff about heart failure quality measures and standards of care and helping them adapt to new responsibilities based on monthly data. She completes regular audits to ensure standards of care are being carried out for heart failure patients, such as daily weights, self-assessments and patient education.

Albany Med’s Heart Failure Program is certified as an Advanced Heart Failure Program by The Joint Commission. Last summer it earned national recognition with the American Heart Association’s Get With the Guidelines Gold Plus Achievement Award.

Gemerek credits the team approach for the program’s success, led by Frances Cavanaugh, DNP, ACNP, CCRN, heart failure coordinator.

“Our large interdisciplinary team is dedicated to ensuring our patients receive nothing but the best evidence-based care,” said Gemerek. “As a teaching hospital, we have the diversity necessary to cultivate innovation, cultural competency, and better overall health outcomes. Both our educational programs and our nurse recruitment programs draw in staff from all over the world, and many of our cardiac specialists started their careers here as fellows in the Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship Program.”

Gemerek said that although nursing can be challenging, it’s been more fulfilling than she ever anticipated.

“It’s incredibly rewarding knowing that at the end of the day you may be making a profound difference in someone’s life,” she said.