On Aug. 9, 2017, cardiovascular intensive care nurse Sheryl Loehr, R.N., was doing much the same thing she had done on Sept. 5, 1990, and on many occasions between – caring for an open-heart surgery patient at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital.

The September 1990 patient was the hospital’s first, and the August 2017 patient was its 8,000th.

The only one of the original 10-member open-heart nursing staff still providing bedside care at Moore Regional, Loehr recalls that nursing colleagues Karen Copeland and Diane Witkowski “took care of the first heart with the other eight nurses on hand to observe, learn and streamline the process.”

Because of her long history with the open-heart program, Loehr asked to be assigned to the 8,000th patient, Robbins resident Rose Lebo. A self-described numbers person, Loehr had observed the approach of the history-making surgery and wanted to be directly involved in that patient’s care.

“It was a very special honor,” she says. “CVT is my home away from home and my heart. Watching the tally of open-heart surgeries increase has continued to grow my pride in our program.  These patients aren’t numbers, though, and she was a pleasure to take care of. We wanted to share this special event with her and her family.”

Loehr was handpicked for the open-heart nursing team by John F. Krahnert, M.D., who started the program in 1990, but actually joined the Moore Regional staff two years before his arrival. Ironically, both had previously worked at the University of Kentucky – she as a Critical Care Unit nurse and he as a surgical resident – but had never worked together and had known each other only slightly.

“It was good fortune that brought us back together,” says Loehr

Loehr did work with David Christaldi, the original perfusionist (heart-lung machine professional) on the FirstHealth team, during her Kentucky tenure, however.

In the 27 years of the open-heart program, Loehr has also worked with several surgeons, including Peter I. Ellman, M.D., who performed the 8,000th surgery, as well as Dr. Krahnert.

“I have had the pleasure of working closely with Sheryl Loehr over the years,” Dr. Ellman says. “She has been a stalwart asset to the program and is what I would say perhaps one of its real unsung heroes. Thousands of lives have been made better by both Dr. Krahnert’s and Mrs. Loehr’s efforts and sacrifice.”

According to Loehr, the open-heart program opened new windows of opportunities for education in both nursing and technical aspects for FirstHealth nurses. Many were inspired to further their nursing education and/or move into advanced practice careers as certified registered nurse anesthetists or nurse practitioners, while others – as she has – preferred to stay at the bedside as the number of successful open-heart surgeries grew.

“It was intriguing in that you were not only learning new nursing and technological skills but also emotional skills as well,” Loehr says. “Pinehurst is a small town, and we see the progress of these patients. With each new physician, we’ve learned new techniques. It’s never-ending up here.”

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