Holding the Highest Standards for Complex Heart Transplant Patients

Elise Strycharske

APP Champion: Elise Strycharske, NP, Cardiovascular/Transplant Medicine, University Hospital, East Madison Hospital, Research Park Clinic

As a transplant nurse practitioner, Elise Strycharske says the team effort that goes into caring for this complex population is simultaneously challenging and rewarding. When she reflects on how she got into transplant medicine at UW Health, she said it was partly out of necessity. “We hired new doctors and surgeons and then the patient base tripled,” she says. “I enjoy being a part of the process to get a patient on the transplant list. Working in this field of medicine, we really have the honor of seeing patients progress from being sick with advanced heart failure to thriving post-transplant, and working with them for the rest of their lives. I like that aspect of my job.”

Her love for medicine started at a young age. She recalls a moment when her grandfather was hospitalized for 10 weeks when she was in middle school. “Watching those intensive care unit (ICU) nurses work with and take care of him was a memorable moment for me. It was the moment I knew I wanted to pursue medicine,” Elise explains. “ICU nursing compelled me. Now today, I see my grandfather in my patients. Or sometimes he comes to me in a situation when I have to make a difficult decision. The memory of my grandfather keeps me grounded in my work.”

When Elise looks back on her education, she says nursing was second degree. Her undergraduate degree from UW-Madison is in zoology. “I thought I would go into pre-medicine but started working in the intensive care unit, loved ICU nursing and decided to shift my focus to nursing. Then, I got into the nursing program at Edgewood College in Madison.”

While at Edgewood, she studied in Guatemala. Shortly after returning, she worked in the cardiac intensive care unit at UW Health. Elise worked there for seven and a half years while completing her Doctor of Nursing degree at UW-Madison, and then took a job in advanced heart failure and transplant medicine. She has now worked in this specialty for four years.

“I was the first nurse practitioner (NP) in transplant cardiology at UW Health. I’m honored to have pioneered that role. We’ve since expanded the department quite a bit. Watching the clinic grow has been incredible to see,” Elise says.

The UW Health Transplant Center performs heart transplants to treat heart failure and heart disease, and is one of just five centers in the nation transplanting hearts from cardiac death donors using a device that preserves heart function between donation and transplant. Wait times are among the nation’s shortest. The staff use minimally invasive techniques to improve patients’ health and for some, provide support while they wait for a transplant. UW Health proudly serves veterans as a Veterans Administration-approved transplant program.

When asked about her team at UW Health, she describes them as flexible, supportive and trustworthy. “We all have a shared expectation for autonomy,” she says. “We hold each other to super high standards. We are very dependent on our team and fully reliant on our heart failure and transplant nurses to help meet the needs of our complex patients.”

Elise says she feels lucky to have such great colleagues. “They are truly the best of the best and try to share an even workload among staff members,” she continues. “We run through scenarios with each other to gain a better understanding of what is needed to do the best we can in all situations. My physician colleagues are nothing but supportive. We truly have autonomy and our leaders champion us to be leaders too. My medical director is always looking for growth and opportunities to expand our skill set and leadership roles. I appreciate that.”

Working amid a global pandemic has been hard for healthcare workers. Especially as the delta variant makes its way in. “It’s been hard for all of us but it’s especially hard for our patients. Many of them have had to be here at the hospital for weeks without family or friends at their bedside. It’s been a super challenging time. Many of us providers and staff have had to be not only the care provider but also the friend or family member too. It’s been hard but we wouldn’t do it any other way.”

Elise says her patients remind her to recognize and appreciate the joy in life. “Take each day at a time, focus on what’s important and be appreciative for good times. My patients help me realize that health and wellbeing is so important. They help me put things into perspective when I get lost from that way of thinking.”

Outside of work, Elise stays busy with her 2-year-old son, Will. She likes boating, being active and working on her fitness. She also enjoys gardening, cooking and listening to music.