Sylwia Katarzyniak-Best, clinical perfusionist

Can you describe what you do day-to-day? Sylwia Katarzyniak-Best

My tasks vary every day. Usually at 7:30am I will be allocated for the day to either the operating theatre or the intensive care unit (ICU).

My main role is to prepare and run the cardiopulmonary bypass machine, which takes over the work of the heart and lungs during open-heart surgery by pumping oxygenated blood around the body. Occasionally, I also work with the transplant retrieval team, who retrieve organs from donors to be transplanted into patients. My role here is to keep the heart beating and healthy while it is in an organ care perfusion system – a special machine that pumps oxygenated blood through the heart while it is being transported from the donor to the recipient.

What do you like most about your job?

I like being part of an operating theatre team and actively helping to fix patients’ hearts and lungs! It is very rewarding.

Which part of your job is most challenging?

An organ may need to be retrieved at any time, so there is always a team on-call ready to go and retrieve the organ to take it to the patient. I think as I get older it’s the 24-hour-on-call shifts that I find most challenging.

What is the best/funniest thing a patient has ever said to you?

When we approach patients in operating theatres, they are usually anaesthetised and soundly asleep, so not much conversation happens! I bet patients don’t have a clue who perfusionists are! Sometimes we do look after patients that are awake, mainly on ICU when they are on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) or ventricular assist devices – types of cardiopulmonary bypass machines. They are always lovely and very grateful for the help they are getting. The best thing is to see really sick patients, recover.

Why did you decide to work in healthcare?

Like most young people I didn’t know what I wanted to do in the future, so I decided to try nursing. Nursing college made me realise that I love working in clinical settings. Shortly after completing my MSc in nursing, I came across a job advert for a trainee clinical perfusion scientist in one of the cardiac centres in Warsaw, Poland, where I was living at the time. I went to visit the department, and soon after had an interview and they decided to take me on board. That was over 20 years ago and I think it was the best decision I ever made, because even now, I love my job.