Someone You Should Know: Catherine Fuller

For 36 of her 38 years at Rochester General Hospital, Fuller has been a perfusionist. (WHAM photo)

Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - When Cathy Fuller tells people what her job is, questions inevitably follow.

For 36 of her 38 years at Rochester General Hospital, Fuller has been a perfusionist. That's the person on a cardiac surgery team who operates the heart lung machine, which is vital in keeping patients alive during open heart surgery.

"We take over the workload of the heart and the lungs," Fuller said.

Fuller, who is retiring, is quick to point out that she is a member of a team. Her job, and those of others, are each critical parts of the process.

"You do have the weight of the world on your shoulders at that moment," Fuller said. "But you have to put it aside and take each piece that you're responsible for and focus and do it."

Dr. Ronald Kirshner became a heart surgeon about the same time Fuller started as a perfusionist. He says it's not just the years that have passed, but the changes and improvements that have been made in cardiac surgery technology and process.

"It's kind of like an air traffic controller," Kirshner said. "You've got the pilot running the plane. But without the air traffic controller, the situation - it's very dangerous. It's the towers that keep us all safe. And it's the perfusionists that keep us all safe. We depend so heavily on our perfusionists, which is why we work so closely as a team. We have to."

Fuller's last day on the job will be Friday. She knows it will be difficult to replace the adrenaline rush that came with the job - and the satisfaction that came at end of each work day.

"It's a great job," Fuller said. "Every day I go home, no matter how difficult the day has been, I know I made somebody's life better. We saved lives. The team, we all saved lives."

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