The Mary Finley Story: Understanding the heart of second chances

The Mary Finley Story: Understanding the heart of second chances

Mary Finley in the cardiovascular lab at Watauga Medical Center

 

How do you define love? To every retailer’s delight, this question seems to always resurface at Valentine’s Day. For better or worse we have become conditioned as a society to celebrate the “heart holiday” with flowers, chocolates and greeting cards. Although these gifts are certainly appreciated, one could argue that dinner reservations and overstuffed teddy bears do not in and of themselves define love.

Mary Finley, the cardiovascular lab manager at Watauga Medical Center defines love differently. At the hospital she and her team work with interventional cardiologists to provide life-saving heart procedures for patients in need of a second chance. After receiving her own share of second chances in life, she defines love as an action, made evident through undeserved and unconditional grace.

 

On the run

Mary was the youngest of six children in her family’s home in Wilkesboro, NC. It was there that she shared a cramped bedroom with her twin sisters and spent most of her free time outdoors playing by the creek or at church.

“During those days our family made up half of the cast in the Christmas play,” she quipped. “I was that kid who even received the perfect attendance award at Sunday school.”

Her favorite childhood memory took place on Friday nights. After a busy week of school and extracurricular activities, all of the siblings would gather in the kitchen to drink RC Cola and make their own Chef Boyardee Pizzas.

“That was the only night of the week that we were allowed to have soda,” she shared. “I know it sounds insignificant in terms of memories, but my parents worked really hard to provide for all of us. Family nights were really important in our house.”

Mary got caught up in the wrong crowd however when she turned 15 years old. As a freshman in high school she met a boy and her whole world changed. She ran away from home multiple times before deciding to drop out of school, run away for good and to marry her boyfriend. To no avail, her parents pleaded with her to change her mind, but eventually agreed to honor her wishes and to stand by her side at the wedding.

“I thought I knew what I wanted,” she said. “I mean what teenage girl doesn’t know what they want? I found out years later that my parents prayed a thousand prayers for me. I needed every one of them.”

 

Special procedures

Reality set in for the newlywed couple when the first bill appeared in their mailbox. Unwilling to admit that she was out of her depth, Mary decided to return to the classroom and to work as a maid after school, cleaning houses for rent money.

“I’ll never forget cleaning the house of a young paraplegic lady,” she said. “We quickly formed a friendship and outside of cleaning her house once a week, I volunteered to go over to her home each day during my lunch break to help her get around the house. I think that’s when it hit me that I wanted to go into healthcare. I liked walking into a messy situation and leaving it better than I found it. I like to look at life that way.”

After she graduated from high school an old church friend and mentor recommended that she start her healthcare career by enrolling in the local radiography program. It was there that she discovered her passion for special procedures like heart catheterization and vascular intervention. Determined to leave house cleaning in the dust, the 17-year-old went on to spend every free moment studying her textbooks, working second shift clinicals and third shift x-ray.

All of her hard work paid off at the end of her program when she landed her first job as a radiology tech at Iredell Memorial Hospital in Statesville, NC.

 

Second chances

Unfortunately, her marriage suffered and eventually ended during that time. Due to the unstable nature of their relationship, Mary would often have to hide from her ex-husband. “It was a bad time in my life,” she shared. “But, I would not let it define me. I was a very determined young lady.”

Embarrassed and feeling much like the prodigal daughter, Mary called her parents after five distant years to break the news. Surprisingly, within a few hours her parents and all of her siblings pulled up to her new apartment with truckloads of furniture and everything she needed to survive.

“There were no questions asked and no judgments made,” she said. “I don’t know of too many families that could have done that. They never gave up on me.”

Before long she remarried and applied for a position at Watauga Medical Center in Boone, NC. It was there that the late and beloved Director of Radiological Imaging Services, Wilma Price Redmond, hired Mary as a tech and then quickly promoted her to Special Procedures Supervisor.

“I had so much respect for Wilma,” she said. “Even when she was sick with breast cancer she continued to work, walking around the hospital with her IV pole and her chemo bag hanging by her side. I envied her grit, her kindness and her positive spirit. She taught me how to be leader.”

 

New beginnings

She believed she could so she did - Mary with sign

Mary’s whole world changed again when she had her son, Kyle, in 2000. Eager to spend those early years with her son, she left the hospital and took a more flexible job handling injury claims for an insurance company.

“As a mother, I’ll never regret that decision,” she said. “And that job also allowed me to work in a different side of healthcare. One in which I got to help patients outside of the hospital.”

But soon after her son started school Mary longed to return to the action. To her, nothing was or ever will be more fulfilling than a job in which she literally gets to “scrub in” to help save lives.

During her time away, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System formed and took major strides to improve heart health services in the High Country. Mary was delighted to learn that The Cardiology Center had opened as an outpatient facility on the campus of Watauga Medical Center to provide diagnosis and treatment for heart and vascular disease. A state-of-the-art catheterization lab was also added to the second floor of the hospital to provide much needed interventional cardiology procedures, such as coronary stents and implantable pacemakers. A second cardiovascular lab was added in 2015 to provide patients with better access to vascular surgery.

“We’re in the business of saving lives,” she said. “When it comes to the heart, every second counts. Thanks to these additions, we no longer have to send STEMI cases (heart attack patients) down the mountain for life-saving care. I’m proud to say that we provide everything from cardiac caths and stents to defibrillators and pacemakers to advanced vascular surgery right here in Boone.”  

Mary was promoted to cardiovascular lab manager in 2013. As a “working supervisor” she works alongside of her team of technicians and interventional cardiologists to perform more than 1,000 procedures a year at Watauga Medical Center.

Another mentor in Mary’s life has been Dr. Paul Vignola, an interventional cardiologist that she has worked closely with for the last six years. “Dr. Vignola has my total admiration,” she said. “He has been a huge mentor for me not just in the cath lab but also in life. I cannot thank him enough for his support and guidance over the years.”

 

Unbreakable

Shortly after returning to the hospital Mary’s mother, Carolina, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and became a patient at the Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center in Boone. Since her diagnosis in 2007, Carolina has undergone more than 20 surgical procedures at Watauga Medical Center. Today, after losing her husband, Mary’s dad in 2013, she is still fighting her way through chemotherapy treatments.

Around that time Mary also divorced her second husband. “As you can imagine, that was a very difficult time in my family’s life,” she said. “And it took me awhile to admit that I was struggling with depression. To cope, I tried to channel my energy into my work. And then I would walk across the street to the Cancer Center to try to encourage my mom.”

But, as is often the case with parents, it was her mother that encouraged her. Carolina, an artist by trade, gave a beautiful print to her daughter that reads “She believed she could so she did.” These seven words etched in love beautifully described both mother and daughter. The painting is now prominently displayed in Mary’s office at the hospital as a reminder to never lose faith.

“My mom never lost her faith in me,” she said. “I truly believe that everyone deserves a second chance in life. I’m on chance 10,999 and I’m doing the best I can with it. And it amazes me that God has given me that many chances and he still has not given up on me. My family didn’t, my God hasn’t, and this organization hasn’t. I think everyone that walks in our door at the hospital deserves whatever number chance they are on. To me, that is more than healthcare; it’s love. It is undeserved and unconditional grace.”

The Carlton Isaacs Story: Hospital caretaker receives lifesaving care

The Carlton Isaacs Story: Hospital caretaker receives lifesaving care

Carlton Isaacs

 

Have you ever thought about what goes into hospital operations? Oftentimes we spend so much time thinking about doctors, nurses and patients that we tend to overlook those who work behind the scenes to take care of the hospital building itself. Each pipe, ventilation shaft, walkway and light bulb must be well-maintained in order to keep the hospital up and running.

No one knows more about hospital operations than Carlton Isaacs. For more than 41 years, Carlton has served as a caretaker for Watauga Medical Center in Boone, NC. During that time he has shoveled snow, waxed floors, washed dishes, pulled telephone wire, and even helped out in the operating room. He jokes that he knows the ins and outs of the hospital better than his own home. Recently, roles were reversed however when the 67-year-old caretaker relied on the hospital to provide him with lifesaving care.

 

Words to live by

 

Carlton was born and raised on a farm in Watauga County. It was there that his father taught him that ‘you are only as good as your word.’ This truth was lived out on the farm where he and his five siblings would milk cows, herd sheep and pull tobacco to help the family stay afloat.

For fun the kids would eat popcorn and watch Westerns at night. They also enjoyed chasing fireflies in the summer and sledding in the winter.

“Money was tight back then,” he said with a chuckle. “Since we couldn’t afford gloves, my mother would make each of us wear our wool socks like mittens in the snow. When they got wet we set them by the stove to warm, grabbed another pair and then back out the door we went.”

To help provide for the family, Carlton landed his first job in the environmental services department at Watauga Medical Center when he turned 17. His first assignment was to scrub and wax all of the floors in the hospital. Often viewed as a menial task, his supervisor noticed that he performed the job with a great deal of pride.

“Growing up on a farm will teach you not to be afraid of hard work,” he said. “No matter what you do at the hospital, your job is just as important as the next one. It takes a team to make everything work.”

Thanks to his positive attitude he was promoted to work in several other departments including plant operations and information technology. He was also recognized as the hospital’s employee of the year in 1991.

“I was shocked when they called my name at the banquet,” he said. “It just goes to show that if you stay true to your word, good things happen.”

 

Diagnosis love

 

One evening, while working second shift at the hospital, Carlton spied a pretty girl who was there to visit her sick grandfather. Unwilling to let the moment pass him by he summoned all of his courage to say hello. And so it was a friendship formed. Night after night the blushing teenagers would secretly rendezvous in the hospital cafeteria until one day when she informed him that her grandfather’s health had improved and he was getting discharged to return home.

“At that point, I knew I had to quit playing around and ask the girl out,” he laughed. “But, without a car or license I felt like a poorly equipped bachelor. So I asked if it would be alright if I called on her once I got my driver’s license and my own set of wheels. She agreed.”

After a year of saving, Carlton purchased his datemobile, a red 1968 Chevrolet 327 Camaro. As fate would have it the couple went on to have their first of many dates at Hilltop Drive Inn and got married a year later. Today, after 47 years of marriage, Carlton and Mary have two kids, three grandchildren and three great grandbabies.

 

To love and be loved in return

 

Recently, because of his history with smoking, his primary care provider Jerica Smith, FNP, and Dr. Kevin Wolfe, a pulmonologist at The Lung Center in Boone, NC, recommended that Carlton participate in the hospital’s lung cancer screening program. This low-dose CT (LDCT) scan is free and available as a preventive service for Medicare patients between 55 – 77 years of age who qualify. Private insurance plans also cover the screening program.

“I was surprised to learn that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States,” he said. “But, Jerica and Dr. Wolfe explained that with early detection, patients have a better shot at survival. Needless to say, I signed up for the screening.”

Unfortunately, the screening revealed a suspicious spot in his left lung. He was then referred to Dr. Tim Edmisten, a Boone native and general and thoracic (lung and esophagus) surgeon at Watauga Surgical Group. Dr. Edmisten and the surgical team at Watauga Medical Center were able to use an advanced minimally invasive technology called endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS) to determine that Carlton‘s cancer was detected by the screening CT scan at an early stage. EBUS combines traditional bronchoscopy (looking into the airway and lungs with a light) with ultrasound imaging to enable the surgeon to visualize and biopsy lymph nodes or masses beyond the traditional access points of bronchoscopy in order to increase the ability to obtain a diagnosis and determine the extent of the cancer. All of this can be done as an outpatient procedure without any incisions or need for lengthy recovery time.

Thankfully, the EBUS and x-rays confirmed that Carlton’s cancer was localized in the left upper lung at an early stage, which would give him a high chance of cure with surgical resection, as opposed to the vast majority of patients who are diagnosed with lung cancer at a more advanced stage. Dr. Edmisten went on to explain that less than 20 percent of patients with lung cancer currently survive the disease because it is not detected until a more advanced stage. However, the screening program at Watauga Medical Center enabled Carlton’s cancer to be diagnosed at the earliest stage which would allow an 80 to 90 percent chance for cure with surgical resection. Dr. Edmisten and the team at Watauga Medical Center proceeded to perform a thoracoscopic lobectomy for Carlton which enabled removal of the upper lobe of the lung containing the cancer through a minimally invasive technique involving two keyhole incisions plus a 1 1/2 inch incision utilizing thoracoscopic video technology. This advanced technique, offered to less than 50 percent of lung cancer patients in the United States who have surgically removable tumors, provides the benefit of less pain, lower risk of complications, and more rapid recovery and return to work in comparison to the traditional larger open incision thoracotomy.

As a result, Carlton was able to be discharged from the hospital two days after surgery and is thankfully on a full road to recovery.

“I’ve been around long enough to remember working with Dr. Edmisten’s father (Edmisten Heating and Cooling) to add Freon to the chiller at the hospital,” said Carlton. “Now, I have lived long enough to have his son, Dr. Edmisten, say a prayer over me before surgery. When you have a doctor like that and the good Lord on your side, not much can go wrong.”

Before he was discharged to return home, Carlton was touched by the number of hospital friends who stopped by to check on him.

“I had friends from all points in my career stop by to look in on me,” he said. “When you spend a lifetime taking care of a building, and then that building and the people in it take care of you, well, it’s just pretty special. I love these people like my very own family.”

Nearly two months after his procedure, Carlton, who still wears his 20 years of service pin on his belt buckle, is eager to get back to work on a part-time basis. When asked why he was only coming back part-time, he smiled and said, “So I can spend more time spoiling my grandbabies.

The Melanie Childers Story: Hospital Chaplain Celebrates 20th Year of Service

The Melanie Childers Story: Hospital Chaplain Celebrates 20th Year of Service

Melanie Childers, director of pastoral care

We all have preconceptions in life. Predetermined ideas of what is right and wrong based on our own upbringing, faith or lack of it, and individual life experiences. Preconceptions in and of themselves are not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes challenging them can soften hearts and lead to We all have preconceptions in life. Predetermined ideas of what is right and wrong based on our own upbringing, faith or lack of it, and individual life experiences. Preconceptions in and of themselves are not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes challenging them can soften hearts and lead to opportunities for love and grace. for love and grace.

Few people have borne witness to more changed hearts during moments of crisis than Melanie Childers, the Director of Pastoral Care at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS). For more than 20 years her ministry has allowed people of all faiths to feel safe and spiritually cared for while receiving their medical treatment in the High Country.

 

A Family Affair

 

Melanie was born and raised with classical and sacred music in her veins. Her father, Terry, served as the music minister at their church near their home in Concord, NC. Her mother, Betty, served as the church organist and together they managed all eight of the church choirs, including Melanie’s personal favorite, the hand-bell choir.

Each morning Melanie would wake up early to read her Bible, write in her journal and practice the piano before heading out the door to go to school. “I put myself on a disciplined regimen as a child,” she said with a grin. “Before I graduated high school, I read through the Bible seven times and I wrote my way through a stack of spiral-bound notebooks. I always considered my journal to be my personal sanctuary, my private place to pour out how I was really feeling about life, relationships and faith.”

Although she enjoyed playing the piano, Melanie refers to herself as the black sheep in the family. “My two younger brothers, Brian and Jason, also shared my parents’ affinity for music and they went on to enjoy successful careers in it. I love music too, but I was called to take a different path.”

Melanie felt called into ministry at an early age. She took the initiative to pray, memorize scripture and to make her own profession of faith at seven years old.

She also managed to skip the stereotypical “preacher’s kid” stage of rebellion. Rather, her only complaint came at the hands of her parents, who insisted that she wore a traditional dress each week for church. A rule she loathed, but reluctantly followed in order to keep the peace.

“Sunday evening was my favorite night of the week,” she said. “My father would order pizza after service and we would all unwind together in front of the TV, watching M*A*S*H and Murder, She Wrote.”

 

Spreading Her Wings

 

After finishing fourth in her high school class, Melanie went on to graduate from Mars Hill University with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She then landed her first job as the managing editor for the American Choral Directors Association in Oklahoma.

“That job proved to be a cool juncture between music and writing for me,” she said. “But, after a year in that role, I still felt a tugging on my heart to go into the ministry, so I got back on track and went to seminary.”

Melanie struggled in seminary. She took pride in the fact that she could balance her school work with her job as a newspaper reporter. However, she sensed that not everyone was happy with her career choice. Outside pressure in the form of voiced disapproval came from those who felt that pastoral training at a seminary was intended only for men.

“I did question my faith during that time,” she said. “But, I believe that questioning one’s faith is a good thing. How can our faith ever be strengthened if it is not questioned?”

Perhaps in a moment of providential irony, the newspaper then assigned the seminary beat to Melanie. “I had to report on the political hot topics at the seminary that were actually affecting my life,” she said. “Ultimately, that experience taught me to research both sides of an argument. It also strengthened my own resolve to follow God’s calling in my life.”

Melanie went on to complete a two year chaplaincy program at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC. For chaplains, Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) training is similar to what residency training is like for doctors. The training program brings theological students of all faiths into supervised medical encounters with patients in crisis. This on-the-job training equips chaplains with the skills necessary to care for the various spiritual and emotional needs of patients and their families.

“I was drawn to chaplaincy work because hospitals are a great equalizer,” she said. “As a chaplain, you get to work with and minister to a great cross section of humanity.”

 

A Higher Calling

 

ARHS Chaplain Staff

Melanie with the ARHS Chaplain Staff

After completing her CPE program, Melanie applied for two chaplain positions, one at a hospital in Norfolk, VA, and the other at Watauga Medical Center in Boone, NC.

“I always loved the mountains,” she said. “So when the job in Boone called back first I jumped on it. My plan was to stay for just a few years, long enough to become board certified, but this place kind of grows on you.”

Not surprisingly, Melanie keeps to a purposeful routine at the hospital. Each morning she reviews the hospital census in order to determine which patients had either requested or been referred to a chaplain. She then works with an interdisciplinary care team to make rounds throughout the healthcare system.

“There is still a preconception out there that if you agree to see the chaplain, then you must be near the end of your life. But that is a total myth. My goal is to address the patient’s holistic needs,” she said. “In a very short amount of time, I try to introduce myself, establish some rapport, and then quickly move beyond casual courtesy to dealing with some really deep stuff that might be happening.”

Trained clinical chaplains are often referred to as “Intimate Strangers” for their ability to carefully enter into family dynamics in order to provide spiritual comfort. At ARHS, Melanie and her team of staff chaplains are often called upon to provide crisis intervention, bereavement care, spiritual assessments, religious rituals, and pastoral conversations that are consistent with the patient’s faith tradition.

“I am really passionate about interfaith work and respecting all people for whatever beliefs they may have,” she said. “In this line of work, you have to remember that these patients are actually people, often nervous and outside of their comfort zone. My goal is to earn their trust and then to honor their beliefs.”

Some faith traditions ascribe to strict medical guidelines. Melanie is well-versed in this area and frequently makes notes in the medical record to ensure that faith-based medical requests are known and honored by the attending medical team.

Melanie states that her faith has grown and evolved over the years. “Working with people of all faiths and people of no faith invites you to expand outside the boxes of your youth,” she explained. However, her spiritual beliefs continue to guide her compassionate care for people.

Melanie-Childers-Pastoral-CareMelanie’s job requires ordination and endorsement from a recognized faith group. These credentials are granted to her from the United Church of Christ. She is an active member of the High Country United Church of Christ, but also visits regularly in other High Country congregations, and occasionally provides pulpit supply for various churches. In 2000, Melanie became a board certified chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains. She is active on the state and local levels of her professional field, and served on the board of the Association of Professional Chaplains from 2004-2007.

Outside of her chaplaincy work, Melanie also has a master’s degree from Appalachian State University in Professional Counseling. “I’m often asked to provide counseling for patients in the at the cancer center. When that happens, I literally flip my pastoral care name badge over to the other side so patients can see that I am also a licensed professional counselor.”

She also oversees the AppFaithHealth program, co-chairs the hospital’s ethics committee, and coordinates the organ donation program, palliative care program, and supervises interns in both chaplaincy and counseling.

Despite the rewarding nature of her work, Melanie does admit that it can and often does take an emotional toll. To recharge, she meditates and enjoys spending time outdoors with her best friend and life partner Cath Hopkins. The couple tied the knot in 2014.

 

Belief in Miracles

 

After having spent the better part of her career ministering to families in crisis, Melanie was recently asked whether or not she believes in miracles.

“I do believe in miracles,” she said. “I have a great respect for medicine and all that it does, but I also know that there are other things at work, such as faith and prayer. I have witnessed remarkable things that I cannot explain away scientifically. That does not for me diminish their value and their reality. I guess we just have to put those things in the category of miracle.”

Now in her twentieth year of service, Melanie jokes that she knows where every tissue box is located in the hospital. To that end, she also keeps her “spiritual crash cart” well-stocked with warm blankets, Bibles, devotion books, rosary beads, anointing oil, music, labyrinths and some non-traditional items like coloring books.

“Experience has taught me not to make assumptions in life,” she said. “As a society, we are quick to judge and quick to put people into boxes. But, suffering often serves as a humble reminder that we are all more alike than we are different. My goal is to be truly present with each patient, to provide them with love, grace and spiritual comfort.”

Volunteer Susie Morgan is retired and ‘refired’ after a career at ASU

Volunteer Susie Morgan is retired and ‘refired’ after a career at ASU

Susie MorganHi! My name is Susan (Susie) Morgan and I have been a volunteer in the Gift Shop at the Watauga Medical Center since October of 2016.

I retired from Appalachian State University in 2015 after 20 years in various positions, most recently as Director of Academic Testing. I am a big believer of giving back to the community, so after a year of “stagnation,” I began to look around for local volunteer opportunities. A good friend encouraged me to apply at the WMC Gift Shop and it has been a blessing to me. As my daughter says, “it keeps me off the sofa!” In addition to volunteering at WMC, I serve on the Board of the Women’s Fund of the Blue Ridge and on the “Bread of Life” committee at St Mary of the Hills Episcopal Church, which provides home cooked meals to Hospitality House, the local homeless shelter.

I really enjoy my two afternoons a week at the WMC gift shop. The hospital personnel are so friendly and welcoming. Plus, it is fun to run into friends who also volunteer in other departments around the hospital. I look forward to coming “to work” here at Watauga Medical Center and encourage other “retirees” to join me!

Learn more about volunteering with Appalachian Regional Healthcare System >

Barbara Robinson: 12 years of volunteer service

Barbara Robinson: 12 years of volunteer service

Barbara Robinson

Barbara Robinson has been volunteering at WMC since 2006. She currently volunteers in radiation oncology and is a true blessing to anyone she meets. Below in her own words, Barbara shares why she decided to become a volunteer.

I attended Indiana Central College studying elementary education which I utilized as a substitute teacher for two years when our son started school. However, I soon realized that teaching was not my calling as I had always loved the medical field. So I began my seven years at Florida Hospital in Orlando, Fla, obtaining my accredited records tech certification and served in the role of supervisor of medical/legal information release. I then relocated to Radiology Consultants and worked for the next seven years as supervisor of Medicare reimbursement.

 

When my husband took early retirement, I followed and we began splitting our time between Florida and North Carolina. I knew I wanted to give something back to our new community and keeping my contact in medical records, I started volunteering at Watauga Medical Center. I also volunteer at ASU ushering at the summer arts series, at Watauga Humane Society as a greeter and with SNIPS (spay and neuter in a positive solution). I just enjoy helping people and animals find their way!

From point A to point B: patient experience begins with Wendy Martin and the materials management team

From point A to point B: patient experience begins with Wendy Martin and the materials management team

Do you ever stop to think about what goes into your purchasing decisions? For most of us, many factors work together to help us decide on a product. At the speed of scrolling we like to investigate everything, but we often don’t stop to consider how a company’s supply chain works before we purchase a cup of coffee, a new car or even our healthcare services.

Wendy Martin

Wendy Martin, a materials management professional at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS), works behind the scenes to ensure that every hospital and outpatient facility in the healthcare system is well equipped to provide a great product—quality medical care—for her patients.

 

Cornbread and determination

Wendy Martin was born and raised in the sleepy mountain town of Zionville, NC. It was there that she learned how to ride a motorcycle, bake cat head biscuits and work with her hands to fix just about anything.

“Dad was a carpenter and he taught me that with the right amount of determination and elbow grease you can accomplish anything,” she said with a smile. “My mom on the other hand worked long hours in a factory, but she was never too tired to tuck us in at night.”

Wendy’s favorite childhood memory took place every Sunday afternoon at her grandmother’s house. “We would all squeeze into the kitchen to help prepare dinner,” she said. “Every meal would include coffee, pinto beans, cornbread, fried chicken and my grandmother’s famous chocolate cake with extra sprinkles. Between bites we would all share what we had learned from the previous week and encourage each other for the days ahead.”

After high school Wendy was hired as a seasonal gift wrapper at Belk in Boone. “I guess I was pretty good at wrapping gifts,” she joked, “because I ended up working there for 11 years, 8 of which as a display manager. Looking back, that experience helped to prepare me for the work I do today at the hospital.”

 

Soles of influence

Wendy was hired as a storeroom assistant at Watauga Medical Center 11 years ago this August. Some mornings she arrives at the hospital’s loading dock around 6:15 a.m. to greet and unload medical supply trucks. Each week the materials management team receives and delivers 25-30 pallets of medical supplies across all of the ARHS hospital and outpatient facilities.

“The patient experience starts with our department,” she said. “Whether it’s a toothbrush or a new piece of equipment for the operating room, making sure that the right supplies are available when our patients need them is our top priority.”

The nine-member materials management team proudly works behind the scenes seven days a week and through all types of inclement weather to get the job done. “I walk close to 10 miles a day delivering supplies,” she said with a grin. “You would be shocked to see how many pairs of sneakers I have in my closet!”

The tennis shoe clinician is also known for her willingness to fulfill special requests from patients. “Occasionally, a patient will ask me for a certain type of shampoo or for some other type of convenience product,” she said. “If we don’t have the product in the storeroom, the department often goes to Walmart to purchase the item.”

Wendy considers Watauga Medical Center to be her “home away from home” and she takes great pride in making sure that every patient feels comfortable during their stay. “I was born here, my daughter was born here, and most of my family has worked here at some point in time,” she said. “I’m proud to do what I can to give back.”

 

Scrubbing in

After working in the medical field and observing patient care for many years, Wendy recently decided that she wanted to learn how to start caring for patients in addition to her role in materials management.

“Initially, the thought of going back to school while working full-time seemed daunting,” she said. “But the healthcare system was very supportive. And I came to look forward to my family’s weekly dose of encouragement at our Sunday afternoon meals.”

Last month she graduated from night school with her Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) license. Eager to contribute in new ways, she hopes to start working a few days each week as a CNA in addition to her job in materials management. Her next goal is to pursue her phlebotomy license and then to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN).

Wendy beamed with pride as she shared, “My 4-year-old daughter recently told me that she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. I want to be someone that she can look up to in life. Someone that can encourage her and maybe even help her study along the way.”

We consider Wendy Martin to be a difference maker at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System. Someone we all look up to. Someone we can all learn from.

To learn more about the various career opportunities at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, search for jobs, or contact a recruiter, visit apphrs.org/careers.