Q&A With Valerie Durney, NP, CCTC, Lung Transplant Program

Patient Ayelet Sternberg with Valerie Durney in her clinic at the Lung Center.

Patient Ayelet Sternberg with Valerie Durney in her clinic at the Lung Center.

Valerie Durney, NP, CCTC, lung transplant team manager, has cared for lung transplant patients as a nurse practitioner for 18 of her more than 20 years at the Brigham. She shares with Heart & Science what makes her role — and these patients — so special.

What do you enjoy most about your role?
VD: Caring for this population is extremely rewarding and emotional at the same time. I’ve known patients for over 18 years and, inevitably, that creates a long-term relationship. I get to hear about kids growing up and graduating, marriages and grandchildren, vacations and all the things they may experience after they get a second chance at life. It’s amazing to see someone essentially dying and being reborn and able to enjoy life.

When do you begin caring for transplant patients?
VD: I follow patients from their beginning visits to our clinic when they undergo a lung transplant evaluation to try to qualify for donor lungs, to when they are accepted for listing, awaiting transplant and then post-transplant.

How do you support patients during this journey?
VD: Most patients and families are anxious when dealing with a potentially life-ending illness. It’s my job to educate and guide them through this difficult time. Living with a terminal lung disease is living through a series of losses — the loss of one’s ability to work, to care for their home and to attend events due to shortness of breath, fatigue and high oxygen needs. Patients are limited as to how long they can be away from home, and many eventually cannot perform simple tasks, such as bathing, dressing or preparing meals on their own.

How do you care for patients while they are awaiting news of a donor?
VD: I help prepare patients and their families for transplant and what to expect when the patient wakes up with the ability to breathe. We are unable to predict when any patient is going to get “the call,” so you need to be a cheerleader for them to stay positive and keep going, no matter how difficult it is. Given the shortage of organ donors, this process may take time and some patients lose hope. Our team coaches patients to keep taking care of their health and to persevere, despite their difficulties breathing.

Describe the multidisciplinary team that cares for lung transplant patients.
VD: Our team is made up of an exceptionally caring and well-trained staff, including administrative assistants, nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians, pharmacists, dietitians and social workers. We work together to provide the best care for our patients. It takes the efforts of each and every discipline for the best outcome for each patient.

See related story, “A Second Chance at Life: Lung Transplant Patient Thankful for Care,” in the Brigham Bulletin.