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Colleague, mentor, friend: Barb Banasick’s career of distinction is still going strong

One night stands out. A potential tragedy turned small miracle, and a career path was solidified. It was Thanksgiving 1966. A young CRNA was called into work when a patient was rushed to the hospital after a horrific traffic accident.

Upon her arrival, the CRNA reported to the X-ray department where she learned the extent of the patient’s injuries --- both arms were already casted and it was questionable as to whether or not the team could save her legs. The patient required an IV, and with casts on both arms, there was only one option for the CRNA. Without an anesthesiologist on site, she quickly responded and administered the IV through a vein in the neck --- not a common procedure at the time.

“It was the case that defined my career,” recalls Barb Banasick-Zavatsky. “And I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.”

A year later, the accident victim, who happened to be a high-ranking U.S. elected official’s secretary, walked into the hospital to thank the medical team that saved her life. All the young CRNA could do was watch in amazement as that secretary walked away.

Banasick-Zavatsky’s career as a CRNA began in 1966 and her passion for the profession is just as strong today as it was then. Barb doesn’t think she’s done anything special or notable in her career. Yet, she’s touched the lives of countless patients and gained the respect of colleagues, including many who view her as a mentor.

“If there is any CRNA or any person I could emulate, it would be Barb Banasick. She is the epitome of intelligence, good judgment, character, compassion, positivity, limitless energy and class,” said Pam Wrobleski, DNAP, MPM, RN, CRNA, CASC. “I have been lucky to have her as a mentor, coworker and friend for many years. I have learned much from her about anesthesia --- and about life. Our profession and world are better places because she is a part of them.” Barb’s legacy is immense. Jessica Poole, DNAP, CRNA, considers herself fortunate to call Barb a friend, mentor and colleague, and Dr. Guy Leone, M.D., said that Barb has always been one of his favorite CRNAs to work with.

“I spent the most enjoyable and memorable years of my career working alongside Barb,” Poole said. “Anyone who’s had the pleasure of knowing her can attest to Barb’s larger than life personality, endless energy and love for her profession.”

“She earned my respect for her knowledge and dedication,” Dr. Leone said. “She possesses a wonderful combination of common sense and book knowledge. It is a pleasure to work with a friend and an honor to work with a very competent individual.”

Barb’s interest in nursing was sparked at a young age. Her mother had a circle of friends who were all nurses, and she had the opportunity to hear them talk and learn from them while growing up. Though she initially wanted to be a school teacher, she pursued a degree in nursing and discovered a love of providing comfort to others.

Her transition to CRNA was just as natural. While working in the labor and delivery room, she spoke with a number of CRNAs who inspired and motivated her, and the years have flown by since making the decision to become a CRNA.

“Being very active and on the go is the way I’ve always been,” she said. “Every day there’s something new to learn and something new to absorb. I still look forward to doing the work, so I’m not ready to retire.”

Barb did retire once in the mid-1990s, but that didn’t last very long. She didn’t think retirement was all it was cracked up to be. She missed the work and mental stimulation, so she rejoined the work force within a year.

“She often asks me to let her know if I see her losing steam, only to turn around and see her send off a text or email on her phone prior to preoperatively evaluating a patient,” said Pat Ponko, CRNA. “Her stamina for new concepts and desire to learn all she can is remarkable. Her memory is sharp as she relates anesthesia memories regarding procedures when I can’t remember what I just did a few days ago.”

And there are no signs of her slowing down any time soon. Quipping that you can only sit on a swing for so long, she spoke about her professional pride.

“I know a lot of CRNAs who are great people and great workers,” Banasick-Zavatsky said. “And there’s a lot of camaraderie in this field. I’m proud to be a part of this group, and it’s a profession I would recommend to anyone who has an interest in nursing. At the end of the day it’s a good life around good people.

“What more could you ask for?”

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