An essay honoring SARA SARGENTE, RN, OCN [ORANGE REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, MIDDLETOWN, NEW YORK]
Sara Sargente, RN, OCN, and Jayne O’Malley, RN, B.S.N., OCN PHOTOS BY SALLY SOSLER
WHEN SARA SARGENTE MAKES a commitment, she does it with all her heart and soul. I met Sara about 10 years ago when she came to Orange Regional Medical Center (ORMC) as an infusion nurse. She was like a breath of fresh air, a wonderful oncology nurse with an excellent understanding of oncology and infusion therapy. Just as important, Sara was kind and gentle, and made our team stronger. Sara never wants to let anybody down. She is a perfectionist with a goal toward always doing her best for patients. She became Reiki-certified, and with healing hands and touch brought pain relief and relaxation to many patients.
In 2015, a position for a head and neck oncology nurse navigator was posted, and Sara jumped at the chance to expand her role within ORMC and help a particular patient population. To that role was added the position of forming the new Bloodless Surgery Program, with Sara becoming the bloodless surgery navigator. She had a great deal to learn, but she was up to the task. At the same time, she enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program and is pursuing her B.S.N.
Sara became certified in blood management through the Society for the Advancement of Blood Management, and has been working intensely with surgeons, hematologists and other ORMC Bloodless Surgery Program leaders to create a program to make the community — including Jehovah’s Witness Society members and other patients who do not wish to receive blood or blood products — aware that our hospital has the ability to provide a safe and effective surgery program with or without the use of blood products. She has developed the knowledge, values and skills to work with the Jehovah’s Witness community, introducing herself to patients who choose to be included in the bloodless program, and providing reassurance that wishes will be respected and patients will receive exemplary care.
In her role as head and neck cancer nurse navigator, Sara helps patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer through a very difficult treatment course. Patients often receive complicated regimens of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, with challenging and sometimes painful side effects that need management. She aspired to learn extensively about head and neck cancer and the resources available. When patients are diagnosed, they are extremely anxious, and when Sara meets them during their consultation, her calming influence and caring attitude shines. She makes a commitment to be there for them and help them through their treatment and survivorship. Head and neck cancer often affects the ability to eat, drink and speak, and a person’s appearance. When you see how comfortable and cared for Sara makes patients feel, it is truly what the essence of being a nurse is all about.
She attends tumor board meetings and tracks down doctors, nurses, our nutritionist and other team members to make sure that the entire team is aware of a patient’s needs. She provides education, support and the means to get the help that each patient needs by working tirelessly to make sure that they have such things as enteral feeding equipment, grants for financial assistance, prescriptions, dental or surgical referrals — and the list goes on. She goes to physician appointments outside of the hospital we work in with patients to show them that she is there for them. She distributes hugs and good wishes, and is also the facilitator of the Support for People with Oral, Head and Neck Cancer (SPOHNC)/ORMC Head and Neck Cancer Support Group. Sara goes that extra mile to help those who have been impacted by head and neck cancer, whether it be short term or over the long term. There is nobody I would rather have by my side if I ever had to deal with a cancer diagnosis than Sara.
I honestly do not know how Sara does all that she does. Not only does she have multiple responsibilities outside of the home, she also has a wonderful husband and four children ages 4 to 19 who need her attention. There are many nurses and coworkers who do not work outside of their eight-hour days, but Sara never stops or says “no,” especially when it involves a patient. She meets patients at 7 a.m. or 6 p.m.; it is never about Sara, it is always about others. A nurse navigator’s job at ORMC is 24/7. We care about our patients and provide them with our cell phone numbers, and let them know that they can call us at any time. Whether a midnight phone call or a text on vacation, Sara never hesitates to help and support her patients.
She is also the president of the local chapter of our Oncology Nursing Society (ONS), and since she has become president, the organization has raised tens of thousands of dollars and instituted a grant program, ONS “Acts of Kindness,” providing $100 gas cards or grocery cards for patients in need. She is instrumental in many of the fundraisers that are needed to keep the program going. Sara also is on the Citizens Reunited to Overcome Cancer (CROC) Grant Approval Board, which helps local oncology patients with financial support.
I received a phone call from an oncology family in distress this Christmas, who had no money and could not provide a Christmas tree, gifts or even food for their family. One phone call sharing that information with Sara was all it took. Through her efforts, our local chapter was able to “adopt” this family and provide a Christmas filled with food, presents and love. She met me in Sullivan County (about 40 minutes away), never hesitating for even one minute to provide that gift to this family. That is just one example of the many things Sara does. She’s someone who never stops caring and trying to make the world a better place, a true oncology nurse who I feel blessed to work with and know.