By Theresa Edwards Makrush
Pediatric cancer patients have been a top priority at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute since the very beginning. In fact, one of the first people hired in 2006 was the Director of Pediatric Nursing Amy Sapp, a nurse who has dedicated her career to caring for the most vulnerable children. She has helped thousands of people in her career – from babies born prematurely to children at the end of life – and as the primary pediatric nurse at the Institute she has cared for more than 800 children with cancer.
One of the most significant milestones reached in the first decade of the Institute is growing the pediatric proton therapy program into the largest worldwide. On average, 25 children are treated daily. Amy credits the phenomenal nursing staff, physicians, radiation therapists, social workers and all the staff for this success. Daniel J. Indelicato, M.D., Director of the Pediatric Program, credits Amy. “I do not know anyone who works harder than Amy. Her effort and hard work are the primary reason for the success of the UF program,” he said. “She is the irreplaceable glue that holds our program together.”
Dr. Danny describes her as an inspiring leader who is smart, organized, professional and devoted to her patients. “I would say for the past 10 years, Amy has never taken an hour off work. By that I mean, even during the weekend, vacation, or evening, she will take responsibility for critical issues that arise. She does this because she cares immensely about her patients.”
As the pediatric program grew and eventually became the primary proton therapy provider to patients from the United Kingdom, Amy realized quickly that changes were needed to handle the highly complex cases. She streamlined the patient intake process, placing the pediatric nurse as the first and main point of contact for families. Parents rely on the nurse to manage all aspects of the referral, approvals, medical records and care. Amy acknowledged it is more work for the nurses, but it is worth it for the benefit to families. “I didn’t want parents to have that burden. It makes coming for treatment easier for families because they already have a relationship with their nurse case manager,” she said. “What would you want if it were you?”
Dr. Danny agrees that Amy’s leadership in merging the intake and nursing roles has been a game-changer for the pediatric program and one of many of her contributions to the success of the program. Putting patients first is fundamental. “Her most important overall contribution is represented in the meaningful connections she makes with our patients and families,” he said.
The relationships with patients and families are the best part of the job, said Amy. She finds it especially rewarding when patients come back for not a follow up visit but just to visit. The patients also form lasting friendships with each other and many stay in touch, take vacations together and spend holidays together. Amy said, “Playing a small part in that is rewarding.”