Paper names Holly Sasser, R.N. one of Wyoming’s Top Nurses

By Kristy Bleizeffer May 6, 2019

Holly Sasser, R.N., works on our Progressive Care Unit. The Casper Star-Tribune selected her as one of Wyoming's Top Nurses for 2019.
When I was on the PCU (Progressive Care Unit), I was in extreme pain and highly depressed. One nurse helped me through it and showed me the most passion, commitment and caring. Holly made a terrible situation better and she will always be in my memory. — Ofc. Jacob Carlson, Casper

Holly Sasser, R.N., says nursing is not a button she can switch on and off. She’s often found in her patient rooms, chatting about second cousins or common friends or the weather or about nothing in particular.

In 2012, the man she would marry, Army Spc. Colton Sasser, lost a leg in Afghanistan. She helped take care of him even after spending her day job taking care of her patients.

So, when Ofc. Jacob Carlson was shot in the line of duty one year ago, and as he and his family worked to rebuild their life and Jacob’s health, Holly could empathize.

“While there are many nurses who deserve recognition, there was one who stood out: Mrs. Holly Sasser,” wrote Tiffany Carlson, wife of Jacob Carlson, in a letter to nominate Holly for the Casper Star-Tribune’s Wyoming’s Top Nurses awards.

“Holly went above and beyond to help Jacob through his struggles. She related with him on a personal level as she and her husband had previously been in our shoes. She spent time talking to Jacob as a real person and friend, and not just a patient.”

Both Jacob and Tiffany Carlson nominated Holly for the nursing award, and their full nominations are attached.

Holly is one of 10 nurses honored in the CST awards, and one of five from Wyoming Medical Center. In celebration of National Nurses Week, we’ll share our interview with each of WMC’s winners each day this week.

Holly is a registered nurse on our Progressive Care Unit and is an educator for our Cardiac Service Line. In the interview below, conducted before she knew who nominated her, Holly explains what good nursing means to her.

How long have you been a nurse, and how long have you been at Wyoming Medical Center?

I became a nurse nine years ago. Before I started in progressive care, I worked in long-term care and hospice. That was a labor of love.  I, unfortunately, give everything and so I become attached to my patients and families. I still talk to a lot of my families with whom I went through that transition of life. I knew that I needed a change. So I worked in labor and delivery for almost six years and that was amazing, but I was traveling to do it and my husband and I had a daughter. I just wanted to be home more.

I came to Wyoming Medical Center two years ago. I worked on the Clinical Decision Unit for a while and then moved to the Progressive Care Unit. 

Is PCU a good fit?

I love PCU.  We are the heart center for the region, so we see all walks of life.  We get to really take care of our entire state, not just our community, so that is cool.  And then, you know, we do have a lot of patients who are in ongoing treatment plans, so we see them more often and you get to know them.

Why did you want to be a nurse?

My mom was a respiratory therapist, and my dad worked in radiology here. I think I always thought I would be in health care because it was just second nature. My brother and I were always up here and Wyoming Medical Center just felt like the right fit. 

But I didn’t know I would go into nursing. I originally planned on going to dental school. As I got further into that, I realized that I am a person who likes to talk and visit and you can’t really do that while your hands are in their mouth. So, I had been a CNA since high school and my first job here actually was with Martha Jacobson as a one-on-one sitter for patients who need around-the-clock monitoring. 

Nursing just seemed like next step for me. I think that is where I am different than most nurses.  I can be task oriented, but all the nurses up here tease me because they say, “If you can’t find Holly, check her rooms. She’ll know all about their second cousin’s dog by now.” And I am like, “Well yeah. I like to know about people!”

You know, by the time they leave, I am giving hugs. I feel like a lot of my patients come in as strangers and they leave as friends.

Explain what you do as Cardiac Service Line educator.

We do all the education for patients who come in with congestive heart failure or heart attacks. We do the pre-education for all our open heart surgery patients, and we track readmissions to try to keep patients from having to come back to the hospital after discharge.  

Education is so important because understanding your diagnosis and treatment makes a huge difference in your health long-term. If you don’t know what the expectations are and how you can self-manage, then you are more likely to come back to the hospital. From the nursing side, patients are more likely to comply with their treatments if they understand why we are doing them.  

Do you have any idea who nominated you for this award?

No.  But, you know, I have a lot of patients now that when they come in they ask for me or who I have gotten close to like Jacob Carlson and his family.  I think because my husband (who lost his leg in Afghanistan) and I could relate so much to what they have gone through. When traumatic injury happens to you abruptly in the middle of life, it is a different kind transition than patients with more slow-progressing diagnoses.  So we are good friends now, and we have done some barbeques and we’ve gone to each other’s kids’ birthday parties. I think when you can open yourself up to people and make it relatable, they are more open to you and they really trust you with taking care of them.

I think that is one of my attributes: I open myself completely. I talk about my family and my husband and my kid and show pictures and I think it just makes them trust you.

How does it make you feel, knowing someone took the time to nominate you?

Oh, I cried when I found out.  It makes me emotional now because I think, you know, this job sometimes is hard.  I told my family that I feel like I give 110 percent at work, and I come home and sometimes I don’t have anything left. 

I feel like a lot of us can say nursing isn’t a career, it is who we are. We can’t simply clock in and clock out.  When my husband got blown up, his counselors would tell me, “Are you prepared to be a nurse 24/7? Are you going to be able to do it all day and come home and do it again?” I said, “Yeah. Nursing is not a button you switch on and off.”

I think that sometimes, just getting that “thank you” after those longs days becomes our everything.  We can get stuck in the routine of things and we have to remember that everything that happens in a hospital – all the tests, the medications, the care we give – all feels normal to us. But for patients, it’s not normal. It is scary.  If we can make them more relaxed and answer their questions, it builds that rapport. When you are in the hospital, you remember everything – the way a caregiver touched you and talked to you or if they acknowledged you at all. I think we, as nurses, always have to remember that even though this is our every day, it is not their every day. 

Nursing is hard work, but it is the best work. When someone is willing to thank you it just makes you feel like it is all worth it. 

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL WMC NOMINEES

In all, 31 nurses from Wyoming Medical Center were nominated by their peers and/or patients for the Casper Star-Tribune’s Wyoming’s Top Nurses 2019. Congratulations to all of them!

Brenda Jennings, R.N., Surgical Staging Area; Chantel Thomas, R.N., East Campus Surgical Unit manager; Bonnie Norris, R.N., Surgical Unit; Kristl James, R.N., Medical Unit; Stephanie Lovelett, R.N., Surgical Unit; Katelyn Goff, R.N.; Emergency Department; Sarah Peak, R.N., Advantage Orthopedics and Neurosurgery; Jennifer Gallagher, R.N., Mother & Baby; Connie Coleman, R.N., Chief Nursing Officer; Amy Vincent, R.N., Neuro Unit; Nicole Porter, R.N., Neuro Unit; Melissa King, R.N., Intensive Care Unit; Kerry Moyd, R.N., Emergency Department; Lorri Harford, R.N., Intensive Care Unit; Corrine Arross, R.N., Emergency Department manager; Monica Rogers, R.N., Surgical Staging Area/Intensive Care Unit; Ginger Sims, R.N., Progressive Care Unit; Amber Kidd, R.N., Mother & Baby; Christine Rogers, R.N., Medical Unit; Abby Redden, R.N., Mother & Baby; Becky Fleming, R.N., Trauma Data Analyst; Lathyn Garcia, R.N., Mother & Baby; Sukhy Kaur, R.N., Surgical Unit; Chyanna Esau, R.N., Surgical Unit; Jenea Goddard, R.N., Intensive Care Unit manager; Jennifer Kuras, R.N., Mother & Baby; Sausha Hernandez, R.N., Case Management; Holly Sasser, R.N., Progressive Care Unit; Colin Gransbery, R.N., Cardiac Cath Lab; Tamara Thomson, R.N., Neuro Unit manager; and Kristin Olsen, R.N.; Intensive Care Unit