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Local nurse anesthetists help keep surgery patients breathing easier

By Kevin Hanson

The Courier-Herald

For many who experience surgery at Enumclaw Regional Hospital, the last person they see before “going under” and the first person they see upon waking up is the one who administered the anesthetic.

In Enumclaw, that expert was one of four certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs). The quartet, who have banded together and work as Plateau Anesthesia, handle all anesthesia at the local hospital and the local surgery center; additionally, they handle cases for those having cataracts removed in Federal Way, having oral surgery in Silverdale and see patients at Renton's orthopedic Ambulatory Surgery Center.

The local CRNAs are Helen Walton, Gary Wagner, Brian Maine and Rebecca Meyers. They're an experienced crew, each with at least a decade of experience.

The local four are part of a nationwide network that provides approximately 65 percent of all anesthetics delivered in the United States each year, touching the lives of millions of patients and their families. To celebrate their record of patient care, CRNAs across the country last week celebrated National Nurse Anesthetists Week.

Walton and Wagner sat down recently to explain exactly what they do and the dramatic improvements the field has experienced over the past couple of decades.

The first contact between anesthetist and patient comes in the form of a personal interview, where the anesthetist attempts to learn everything in the patient's medical background that could be important. Further, the personal meeting establishes a bond.

“We make sure we know who they are,” Walton said. “The patient needs to be comfortable with you.”

The anesthetist can be a comforting voice in an operating room filled with beeping monitors, masked faces and high-tech instruments.

Wagner points to huge advances in the types of drugs administered, noting the patient is “under” for a shorter time, recovers quicker and is less likely to experience side effects like nausea.

The biggest advance is technology that allows CRNAs to monitor all of a patient's bodily functions for the duration of the surgical process.

Undergoing anesthesia is 󈬢 times safer than it was even 20 years ago,” Walton said.

One of the things keeping local CRNAs busy is providing epidurals to women in labor. If not for the fact CRNAs are on duty and respond at any time, day or night, couples would have to travel to other hospitals to have their babies delivered, Walton and Wagner emphasized.

Both admit to feeling great satisfaction with their career choice.

“It's personally satisfying when someone comes in scared to death and, when they wake up, they say, ‘That's it? It's over?” Walton said.

Jeannie Matthews, chief nurse officer at the hospital, has nothing but praise for the local CRNAs. “They're great when it comes to working with patients, nurses and medical staff, she said.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.

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