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Healthcare professional overcomes difficult childhood

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Sara Lack vividly remembers her childhood growing up in Hobbs and living in poverty.

“It was a single-mother household,” Lack remembered. “There were a lot of times when we didn’t know where we would get our next meal or have a roof over our heads. My mother worked extremely hard to provide what she could and instill the values of family and working hard in my brother and me.

“School was tough, as well. I had really poor eyesight and struggled with reading and spelling because of it. My mom couldn’t afford medical care or qualify for assistance, so I wasn’t diagnosed and prescribed glasses until I was in about the 5th grade. It definitely affected me in all aspects of my life, and I certainly never thought I would be where I am today having faced those struggles. It just goes to show that anyone can overcome adversity and make something of themselves. Midland College’s sonography program definitely helped in the outcome of my life.”

Sara Lack is now an echocardiographer working for Nor-Lea General Hospital in Loving-ton. As such she uses imaging technology to help cardiologists diagnose heart problems in patients. She operates ultrasound equipment that provides moving 2-D or 3-D images of the heart and its chambers.

Lack graduated from Hobbs High School in 2003 and then enrolled in New Mexico Junior College using federal financial aid and working multiple jobs to pay her tuition and fees. She received two associate degrees from NMJC.

“Although neither of my associate degrees are medically related, I guess I was always interested in a career in the healthcare field,” Lack said. “In fact, my mom thought I would make a great physical therapist. I was hoping to transfer to Texas Tech, but we just couldn’t afford it. Since I couldn’t transfer, I decided to attend a massage therapy program and became a licensed massage therapist.”

Lack eventually accepted a medical office assistant/ licensed massage therapist position in Hobbs working for Dr. Conrad Dean, a holistic medicine specialist. She found that she enjoyed working in a healthcare atmosphere. Dr. Dean also took notice of her medical interest and skill.

“Many of our patients were from the local Mennonite community,” Lack explained. “Dr. Dean decided that he needed to expand his practice to provide care to the pregnant women of that community, so he suggested that I look into becoming a sonography technician. The idea intrigued me. After doing some research, I discovered that Midland College had a sonography program, so I applied. One of the most alluring things to me about the sonography program was it is super affordable.”

However, during the time that Lack was waiting to find out if she had been accepted into the program, Dr. Dean passed away. His medical practice closed, and Lack found herself out of a job. She worked as a bank teller in Hobbs for a short time and then landed a position working once again in a healthcare setting in the pharmacy department of Lea Regional Hospital and became a certified pharmacy technician. Lack was still interested in pursuing a sonography certificate, so when she received notification of her acceptance into Midland College’s sonography program, she eagerly jumped at the chance to begin the program.

“Since I already had two associate degrees, the only general studies class I had to take for the sonography program was physics.” Lack explained. “Physics has a reputation of being a difficult subject, but it wasn’t really that terrible.

“Once I stared the sonography program, I worked the weekend shift at the hospital pharmacy — Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday. Sonography lecture classes were on Mondays and/or Tuesdays so that made it easier to work while attending school at Midland College. I am grateful that my mother-in-law lived in Midland and let me stay with her on the evenings before class. On Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, I was back in Hobbs performing my sonography clinical rotations at Lea Regional Hospital. It was a very busy time for me, but I knew that giving up some things for a short period of time would benefit me for the rest of my life. The sonography program was only an 18-month program (outside of the prerequisites) — so, a relativity short period of time.

“I really enjoyed the sonography program, especially the opportunity to work hands-on using the college’s ultrasound machines. Area midwives would send their patients to the program for obstetrics ultrasounds. It was a great learning experience.”

Lack said that the sonography program probably also saved her life. One day in class, she volunteered for other students to scan her. During the course of the scan, the instructor could tell that there was something on her thyroid. As it turned out, it was a tumor. The thyroid tumor was biopsied during her clinical rotation, so the first biopsy she witnessed as a student was actually her own tumor!

“Sara was one of those students that really showed determination to do well in the program,” Laurie Fitzgerald, Midland College Sonography clinical director and associate professor, said. “She never missed a class, and she never missed a day of clinical. Her evaluations were always great. She showed drive, initiative and got along very well with her peers and her clinical instructors. She strove to learn so she could get every registry she could.”

In May 2009, Lack completed Midland College’s sonography program and passed the SPI (Sonography Principles and Instrumentation) registry exam. She continued to work in the hospital pharmacy and married her husband Christopher Marquez. In 2011, their son Maddox was born.

In 2014, when Maddox was 3, Lack was offered the opportunity to become a sonography technician. She continued working in the pharmacy for another year while balancing the responsibilities in the sonography department. Eventually she transitioned full time into the sonography department and became the lead sonography technician.

“I am so thankful that the hospital had enough faith in me to give me the chance to work as a sonography tech,” she said. “My boss was willing to cross train me in all types of sonography. We did a lot of echocardiograms and vascular sonography, so it was a truly great way to get experience in those areas.”

“When Sara started her first sonography job, they needed someone to do vascular exams, and she jumped right in, learned to do them and sat for her registry,” Fitzgerald explained. “Vascular is not part of Midland College’s sonography program, so she had to learn on her own by picking up a book and learning page by page.”

Lack is now a registered sonography technician in several areas. She has successfully passed the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) exams in obstetrics/gynecology (OB/GYN), abdomen (ABD) and breast (BR), which are the areas of studies offered through Midland College’s sonography program. She also went on to successfully pass the American Registry for Diagnostic Cardiac Sonography (RDCS) in adult echocardiography (AE) and the Registry for Vascular Sonography (VT). She recently took the pediatric sonography registry exam and is awaiting those results.

“I usually spend a couple of months studying before I take each exam,” she explained. “I feel that it’s important to have credentials in all the areas of sonography that I scan. For example, as a mother, I would want a technologist who had proven to be competent in pediatric sonography to do an ultrasound on my son. It’s reassurance for my patients that they have a qualified technologist.”

Lack worked at Lea Regional Hospital for a total of 11 ½ years; the last 5 of those years, she was a sonography tech doing everything from general sonography to cardiac and vascular sonography. This past January, Lack left Lea Regional Hospital and accepted a position working as a cardiac and vascular sonography technician at Nor-Lea General Hospital.

“Nor-Lea has given me a great opportunity to work with an amazing cardiologist and expand my skills and knowledge in adult echocardiograms,” Lack said. “I’m very thankful that Dr. Dean suggested I look into sonography because I would have never thought of it as a career.

“I love working with patients and being able to assist in their care. I feel that it’s important to visit with the patients and make them feel comfortable during the exam. Many times, during a conversation with the patient, they will give me a different story than what they told the doctor. So, it’s my job to perform due diligence for the patient and take that information they tell me and use it to help me while performing a sonogram. If I don’t see something and take a picture of it, then the radiologist doesn’t see it; therefore, the radiologist or cardiologist can’t accurately diagnose and treat the patient. In that aspect, sonography is a challenging field but it is also a very rewarding one.”

“When I go on my clinical site visits I am always excited to get to visit with Sara and see what she has going on personally and professionally,” Fitzgerald said. “Last time I saw her she was renovating her house.”

Lack and her family still live in Hobbs, where her husband Christopher is employed in the oil and gas industry. Their son Maddox is now 9. Her 18-year-old stepdaughter Madison is thinking of pursuing a career in the healthcare industry. Lack said she is grateful for the opportunities Midland College’s sonography program has given her to help her find a career as a sonography technician. She said it has greatly changed her life by securing a financially stable career.

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