Radford University alum named Healthcare Hero by Carilion Clinic

Jessica Cartwright Wisman ’08, M.A. ’10

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” — Arthur Ashe, professional tennis player.

As part of her duties as a speech-language pathologist at Carilion New River Valley Medical Center, Jessica Cartwright Wisman ’08, M.A. ’10, consults with other healthcare professionals caring for hospitalized adults. She helps prevent, assess, diagnose and treat speech, language, cognitive-communication and swallowing disorders as part of that continuum of care.  

“Most of my job focuses on identifying swallowing disorders and helping make recommendations to reduce the risks of developing complications related to this difficulty,” Wisman said.

It was during one of these consultations that Wisman made a “great catch,” according to her manager, that ultimately saved a patient’s life.

“I was asked to see a patient who presented with symptoms of difficulty swallowing and severely altered vocal quality,” Wisman recalled. “The morning before my evaluation, though, the patient had a decline in respiratory status and began requiring significant support to breathe properly.”

Wisman said that at the time, the patient’s code status indicated no intubation. That meant if the person’s condition continued to decline, it was likely they would die.

During her assessment, Wisman noted that the patient had cranial nerve deficits and the case history provided by the family indicated a history of difficulty speaking, particularly when fatigued at the end of the day. When Wisman began putting all of the symptoms together with the patient’s history, she concluded the patient was suffering from a myasthenia gravis crisis.

According to the National Library of Medicine, a myasthenia gravis crisis is a complication of myasthenia gravis (or a weakness and rapid fatigue of muscles under voluntary control) characterized by worsening of muscle weakness, resulting in respiratory failure that requires intubation and mechanical ventilation. This condition is serious, but if identified quickly, it can be successfully managed with medical care.

“I spoke with the attending physician who investigated this possibility, and his exam also strongly indicated that this was the correct diagnosis,” Wisman said. The patient and family were educated on the diagnosis and condition and opted to change their wishes to allow for intubation— with the knowledge that this condition could be reversible with medications and medical treatment.

The patient was transferred to a higher level of care to allow for access to neurology services to best treat this life-threatening condition. The next day, the attending physician came into Wisman’s therapy office to tell everyone that her input had “saved a life” and that the team would not have considered this diagnosis without her thorough assessment.  

“That moment was one of the most rewarding moments in my career,” Wisman said proudly. “As a therapist, I know that I am helping people daily, but typically it does not involve immediate results. It was so rewarding to use my knowledge and expertise to ensure appropriate medical care was received.”

As a result of Wisman’s quick thinking and accurate diagnosis, her manager nominated her for the Healthcare Hero Award at Carilion Clinic. This program recognizes employees across the Carilion organization who are making an impact in their communities and going above and beyond to care for patients every day across Southwest Virginia.

Wisman, who earned her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in Communication Sciences and Disorders (COSD) from Radford University in 2010 and 2008, respectively, was further honored during a Radford basketball game at the Dedmon Center on January 26.

“It was such an honor,” Wisman said. “My husband and two little boys were able to attend with me and enjoy the game. Both of my kids play rec league basketball and were mesmerized by the game.”

Wisman says that she owes much of her success to her time as a Highlander.

“My experience at Radford was nothing short of amazing,” she said. “The professors were inspiring, caring and took the time to get to know each student in our cohort. I loved how small the cohort size was and made lifelong meaningful friendships that I will be forever grateful for.”

Wisman initially chose Radford for her undergraduate degree for very specific reasons. The Floyd, Virginia, native wanted to be close to home, and she wanted to emulate her mother, a registered nurse and first-generation college graduate who received her nursing degree from Radford.

 “My mother passed away when I was 11 after a lengthy battle with cancer,” Wisman said. “Prior to her passing, she made it clear that one of her only desires was for my sister and I to attend college. Her colleagues at the time — two amazing physicians — set up a college fund and donated enough for my sister and I to have a fully paid undergraduate education at the college of our choosing in Virginia. I am so incredibly grateful to those physicians and hope they somehow know what I am doing with my career now and that their donations really shaped my adult life.”

Wisman worked two jobs during her time as an undergraduate and worked as a graduate assistant when working on her master’s degree.

“Dr. Diane Millar is one of the most amazing humans I have ever met,” Wisman said of the associate professor and chair of Radford’s COSD department. “Her work ethic was so inspiring to me, and her personality and responses in the face of difficult situations are what I try to still channel to this day. I am forever indebted to her for her help and support throughout my education.”

Wisman says that one of the most important lessons she took from her education at Radford was to persevere and passionately advocate. She says she learned that this is a profession that requires life-long learning and that you find growth in every challenge.

“I learned that I can be a part of something great that could facilitate change for the better,” Wisman said. “At Carilion, I have facilitated changes that required systemwide discussions and input which will result in better care our patients. I know that I would not have successfully navigated these discussions without my Radford University experience.”

Mar 9, 2023
Mark Lambert