Some educators can trace their interest in their profession to a special teacher in elementary school. Ask firefighters how they chose their careers, and you might hear how they always wanted to help people. Ask Ashley Paige how she decided to be a cardiovascular technologist, and she’ll say it’s something she’s always wanted to do because of a medical condition she was born with.
When Ashley was young, doctors told her parents she was born with ventricular septal defect (VSD). A flaw in the heart causes blood to leak into the right ventricle and pass through the lungs before it reenters the heart. Patients with VSD often do not have a sufficient supply of oxygenated blood pumping through their bodies.
Despite her condition, Ashley’s parents didn’t shelter her, and she had a normal childhood.
“I played sports, including softball,” said Ashley. “My parents were told what to watch for, such as a bluing of the lips and the nails.”
In addition to school and sports, Ashley’s schedule also included regular visits to a cardiologist to monitor her heart defect.
In 2004, when she was 18 years old, her cardiologist decided it was time for surgery to fix the hole in her heart. She went through the five-hour operation in January 2005. The doctors hooked Ashley up to a machine that pumped her blood through her body while they opened up her ribcage to work on her heart.
After the successful operation, she stayed in the hospital for a week and then spent another eight weeks at home. “It was a pretty long recovery,” Ashley recalls. “Sitting down and not doing anything was difficult. It felt like I had been hit by a Mack truck! They break open your chest, and you are in severe pain for a long time.”
Because of this experience, in 2007 Ashley decided to enroll in Cardiovascular Technology at Polk State College.
“I’ve always been interested in the heart — even more so after having surgery,” Ashley said.
She was a member of CVT’s inaugural class that graduated in 2009. Now she’s a cardiovascular technologist working alongside physicians at Florida Hospital in Orlando. She puts into practice the skills she’s learned at Polk State, including such procedures as angioplasty and stenting.
Recently, a patient at Florida Hospital was scheduled for open-heart surgery.
“I made sure to let him know I went through the same procedure. I have empathy with the patient,” she said.
Ashley recalls her state of mind during the months —especially the last weeks — before her surgery.
“I was more nervous than I can explain,” she said.
“When the patient was going through clearance for open heart surgery, I made sure to tell him I would be thinking of him and that I had been in his shoes. I figure he’ll think, ‘Well, she’s been through this and she’s still here.’ It’s reassuring for him.”
That kind of compassion makes Ashley an especially valued member of the healthcare team at Florida Hospital. She is grateful to Polk State for establishing the Cardiovascular Technology program at just the right time to make her career dream come true.
“I can go on and on about the quality of the program. The facilities at the College’s Medical Imaging Complex at the Airside Center are top of the line,” she said. “Overall, Kevin Ferrier (Program Director, Cardiovascular Technology) is doing a wonderful job.”