An all-women team has made history at a California hospital after performing a heart transplant on a female patient in early December.
The team, led by Dr. Amy Fiedler, an attending cardiac surgeon and assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco, was composed of six other health care professionals. They included Dr. Laura Scrimgeour, a cardiothoracic surgery fellow; Dr. Charlene Blake, an attending cardiothoracic anesthesiologist and associate professor; Dr. Jacqueline Measer, an anesthesia resident; Ashley Risso, a perfusionist; Ruiza Coronel, a registered nurse; and another traveling nurse, who is currently not working at UCSF.
The five-hour procedure is notable since at UCSF, Fiedler told "Good Morning America" they only performed about 50 heart transplants last year, and overall, men make up the majority of adult cardiac surgeons in the country. A 2019 STS Thoracic Surgery Practice and Access Task Force Workforce Report showed that, nationwide, women comprise 6.2% of adult cardiac surgeons.
Fiedler said it wasn't until the end of the operation that she realized how unusual it was.
"We did the surgery, just the same as we always do, and as we were finishing up, closing the final layers of the incision, I looked up because that's the time when we're all chatting and listening to music and decompressing after the case goes well, and I said to Dr. Blake, 'Wow, we're all women here,'" Fiedler recalled.
Blake, who has been at UCSF for nearly eight years and also has her doctorate in genetics and genomics, said she was "quite surprised" by the revelation too.
"I've only seen one other heart surgeon in all my years of training and in being an attending and so, this coming together with [Fiedler] and with [Scrimgeour] and with everyone here, it was remarkable," Blake said.
"Dr. Fiedler is making history by being the first female cardiac surgeon at UCSF. I'm making history by being the first Black cardiac anesthesiologist at UCSF. And so for all of us to come together, we made history but we make history by living our best lives every single day. It's incredible," the anesthesiologist added.
Blake ended up capturing the groundbreaking moment in a quick selfie with the team gathered around their patient, Fatou Gaye, who declined to be interviewed but agreed to share her photos and name for this article.
Fiedler said although it initially felt like a regular day at work for all of them, she hopes their story will encourage more women to realize their hopes and dreams.
"It is just so profound to think how us coming to work and doing our jobs has the ability and the reach to inspire so many people across the country, in the world, to live what they want to do, live out their dreams and recognize that anything is possible," Fiedler said.
Scrimgeour, who is in her second year of her three-year cardiothoracic fellowship, said she hopes other women will also follow in their footsteps into medicine.
"Anyone can do this and it's becoming more and more possible," she said. "Everyone can come do this job and I think that's really fun. So I hope that's the message that everyone gets, is everyone's welcome here, everyone should do this because it's a really fantastic job."
Blake also said she hopes women can feel empowered as well and not be held back by any limitations.
"It's kind of like, 'Yeah, this is our time,' and we can blaze trails so that the next generation can come in and it won't be as tough for them as it was for us," Blake said. "Glass ceilings better watch out."