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Robinson named 2022 Coffey Award winner

The only remaining member of the original heart team is the recipient of the 2022 Martin Coffey Cardiovascular Award.

The award was presented to Paul Robinson, certified clinical perfusionist, during A Woman’s Heart event, held Thursday, May 19. He has been with Cookeville Regional Medical Center since 1998 when he began providing perfusion services that are essential to cardiac surgery.

“He takes pride in keeping his knowledge base current and takes pride in the service his company, Upper Cumberland Perfusion Services, offers,” said Lila Ongaro, clinical coordinator for the cardiovascular surgery program, in her nomination.

A perfusionist cares for critically ill patients by operating the equipment (heart-lung machine) that keeps patients alive while their hearts are stopped during surgery. They also work with the equipment that allows patients to get their own blood back during surgery and equipment that helps a failing heart to pump. Perfusionists need to have an excellent understanding of anatomy, physiology, disease processes and critical medications which they will administer while the patient is on the bypass pump.

“As one of only two perfusionists at Cookeville Regional, Paul Robinson has been on call, available 24/7, for 50 percent of the time,” Ongaro said. “He has also collaborated with every cardiac surgeon and anesthesiologist who has worked in the CVOR program at Cookeville Regional and has been instrumental in bringing in new technology and providing the cutting edge cardiac surgery offered at Cookeville Regional Medical Center.”

Robinson also wants his assistants to take advantage of a new national certification program to become Certified Perioperative Blood Management Technicians (CPBMT), believing that all patients having cardiovascular surgery deserve a team that not only know what to do, but why they do what they do.

“This is a difficult certification to achieve and allows the perfusion assistants to use their skills with autotransfusion without needing a supervisor on site,” she said. “This service has saved many people from needing blood transfusions from donors, they just get their own blood back.”

One of Cookeville Regional’s perfusion assistants was the second person with the certification in the entire state.

“He always takes time to explain the surgery and how perfusion works to keep patients alive while we work on the heart,” Ongaro said. “He is a wonderful CVOR ambassador.”

He served on the Tennessee State Board of Health Clinical Perfusion Committee for 10 years, representing both the profession and Cookeville Regional Medical Center. He served as chairman for three years.

“I believe that Paul’s quiet drive and dedication for pushing the cardiovascular surgery program at Cookeville Regional to be at the very forefront of technology and service to the people of the Upper Cumberland best exemplifies the values and goals of Martin Coffey himself,” Ongaro said. “His pride in the service that he has been so instrumental in developing is evident in everything he does, which is also very reminiscent of Martin Coffey.”

Angie LaFountain, director of cardiovascular, vascular and thoracic surgery, said that Robinson is always there to lend a helping hand in emergencies, transporting patients and is always willing to help.

“His caring nature rubs off on you, making bad days (and complicated procedures) not so difficult,” LaFountain said. “He is an awesome role model.”

Martin Coffey was the founding director of the Heart and Vascular Center at Cookeville Regional. This award is presented annually to an individual who has made a positive and lasting impact on the scope and delivery of cardiovascular care at Cookeville Regional and who best exemplifies the same dedicated and loyal service to Cookeville Regional and its patients as was demonstrated by Coffey.

“Paul’s dedication to the science and cardiovascular program here at Cookeville Regional deserves to be recognized,” said Paul Korth, Cookeville Regional CEO. “Thank you for all you do for this hospital, the cardiovascular program and the patients who come here for these surgeries.”