Living the mission: Michigan Medicine nurse practitioner makes impact across the globe

June 20, 2019  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,

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Last year, Michigan Medicine introduced its new mission statement: “We advance health to serve Michigan and the world.”

For many employees, that mission is taken to heart each and every day. That’s especially true for Pat Sovitch, a nurse practitioner in the Cardiac Procedures Unit at the Frankel Cardiovascular Center.

Earlier this month, Sovitch returned from a weeklong trip to Kenya, where she helped cardiologists perform pacemaker implants on patients in the city of Kericho, in the western part of the country.

Recycling devices

Sovitch’s trip was made as part of Project My Heart Your Heart, toward which efforts began at the CVC more than a decade ago.

“In 2007, one of our patients asked what happened to pacemakers that still have good battery life and are in good shape after a patient passes away,” Sovitch said. “At the time, they were just thrown away, when instead they could have been used to help people.”

Since then, Sovitch — who was a device nurse at the time — along with cardiologists and other Michigan Medicine team members, have come together to learn how to safely refurbish pacemakers.

Thousands of them have been donated by families, funeral homes and others for that purpose over the years.

Filling a need

In preparation for being able to use refurbished pacemakers, My Heart Your Heart recently sponsored a trip to Kenya during which experts helped train doctors and nurses on how to implant new pacemakers.

The trip — which Sovitch participated on — brought more than a dozen devices to implant into patients who had complete heart block.

“There is a pressing need for pacemakers and similar devices in Kenya and other underserved nations,” Sovitch said. “These devices are expensive and there is only one cardiologist covering the entire Kericho region, so it’s important that those with the proper resources provide any assistance they can.”

During the first two days of their stay, Sovitch and Michelle Bochinski, R.N., B.S.N., a Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.) student, assisted two U.S. cardiologists, Mark Bowers, M.D., and Tom Carrigan, M.D., as they implanted pacemakers in patients. Both Carrigan and Bowers were former electrophysiology fellows at the CVC and now work in private practice.

“While we performed the surgeries, teams of Kenyan clinicians watched and took notes so that they would be able to carry out the procedures themselves,” Sovitch said.

On Day 3, the Kenyan teams took over and performed the surgeries while Sovitch’s team looked on.

“It’s one thing to drop in and perform important surgeries, but it’s something completely different to help train others who can then carry them out year-round,” Sovitch said. “One intensive training trip to Kenya will help save thousands of lives in the years ahead.”

International impact

Sovitch said the feedback she received from patients and their families was the most gratifying part of the trip.

“We would see patients the following day after their procedures, and immediately it was evident that they were feeling better and in higher spirits,” Sovitch said. “The gratitude they all expressed was incredibly satisfying.”

It’s that influence that earned the support of leadership back home at Michigan Medicine.

“Our nurses have been, are, and will continue to be critical to our organization’s ability to reach patients in need around the world,” said Kim Eagle, M.D., MACC, director of the Frankel Cardiovascular Center. “We are hugely indebted to our nursing colleagues who have helped bring the My Heart Your Heart program into existence.”

For Sovitch, the trip was important on a more personal level. And it was so beneficial that she plans to go back in the years ahead.

“We have the resources here at Michigan Medicine, and they have the need in Kericho,” Sovitch said. “Why shouldn’t I have done something like this? It makes everything we do worth it.”