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Meet a Lung Transplant Nurse

Penny Viater: A Partner in Patient-Centered Care

Penny Viater, RN Penny Viater has been dedicated to transplant nursing since she started her career in 1992.

Steven Ferkau still remembers Penny Viater, ANP-BC, calling 13 years ago and excitedly telling him, "We have lungs for you." Ferkau described the nurse "as happy for me as my wife and my family were" when she visited him in his hospital room after his successful double lung transplant surgery.

"She is a delight for patients, and among the best ambassadors available for patient-centered care," said Edward Garrity, MD.

"As soon as Penny walks into a room, you feel comfortable and you feel cared about," he added. "I adore her, as do many other patients I’ve talked with over the years."

Viater has been involved in all aspects of organ transplant nursing since she started her career in 1992. After five years working as an intensive care nurse, she took a position as organ recovery coordinator (ORC) with Gift of Hope, the organ and tissue procurement organization for the State of Illinois. Working on the donor side of transplantation, Viater talked with donor families, obtained consent, managed care of the donor in the ICU and coordinated the transplant surgery teams in the operating room.

In 1999, she became a member of a lung transplant team at another hospital. She got involved in transplant research, worked in kidney transplantation and then earned her master's degree in nursing. Ultimately deciding that thoracic medicine was the place for her, Viater joined a group of highly regarded lung transplant specialists as they were establishing a new program at the University of Chicago Medicine in 2005.

Jennifer Pisano, Penny Viater, Nirav Shah Viater confers with infectious diseases specialists Jennifer Pisano, MD, left, and fellow Nirav Shah, MD, in the intensive care unit.

"I couldn’t pass up the chance to work with this amazing group of people," said Viater, who cares for general pulmonary patients as well as those waiting for lung transplant.

She explained that the multidisciplinary team is dedicated to providing excellent continuity of care, essential because their patients are followed from two days to a few years before transplant and indefinitely after the lifesaving surgery. "We treat our patients as partners in their care," she said. "And we really get to know them and their families."

Pulmonologist Edward Garrity, MD, who co-leads the lung transplant team at the University of Chicago Medicine, says Viater gives a first impression of happy, healthy, vibrant optimism and carries that to each and every patient encounter. "She uses her great fund of practical knowledge to assess and treat her patients with the highest respect, while encouraging them to engage in their care and get the most out of each visit."