Nova Sprague always has had a passion for animals, especially dogs. And she never thought she'd work with them instead of people. But MD Anderson drew her in, she says.
After completing her Bachelor of Animal Science from Texas State University, Sprague put her passion for animals to work at an emergency animal clinic in Austin, Texas.
There, as a veterinary technician, she assisted with cases that needed ultrasounds.
She decided to learn to perform the procedure herself and moved home to Houston to enroll in ultrasound school and work at a local veterinary clinic. While doing clinical rotations at MD Anderson, she entertained the idea of working outside veterinary medicine.
"I knew that if I was ever going to do something different, MD Anderson was the only place for me," she says. "There's something special about this place."
Now she works here as a cardiac ultrasound technologist.
Working with people and animals
Sprague enjoys the differences between working with people and with animals.
"Animals don't know what's happening and can't tell you what's wrong," she says. "Our patients share so much with me - from their life stories and struggles to simply how their days are going."
Sprague checks patients' hearts to make sure they're healthy enough to begin treatment protocols and endure surgery. She also monitors patients to be sure side effects from treatments like chemotherapy aren't compromising their hearts.
"I feel like I play a very small role in patients' journeys. They go through so much, and all I do is check their hearts," Sprague says. "But they make me feel like I play a big role. They're always appreciative and kind."
Sprague still works part time on weekends at a veterinary clinic doing ultrasounds.
Whether her patients have four paws or two feet, Sprague's heart is fully committed to their care.
"It's a giant world, and there are so many opportunities to make a positive impact," she says. "I've learned that if I pursue what I'm passionate about, doors will open for me."
At MD Anderson, Sprague typically spends about 15 minutes with each patient while he or she receives a cardiac ultrasound.
Although the time is short, the connections she makes with patients can be strong. Jamie Gilmore is one of those patients.
During a cardiac ultrasound, the women bonded over a mutual love of Houston Texans football. A pediatric cancer survivor, Jamie currently is fighting a rare form of cancer called acinic cell carcinoma. Since there's no standardized treatment option for her, she's enrolled in clinical trials. Sprague helps monitor Jamie's heart health during treatment.
Since they met two years ago, Sprague has volunteered at events for Jamie's foundation, Jamie's Hope. It provides support for personalized medicine research here. It also provides support for those affected by cancer and raises awareness about cancer prevention and early detection.
Sprague submitted an essay in fall 2014 about her volunteer work to the Houston Texans Care competition. She won a pair of tickets to a Texans game and attended as a representative of Jamie's Hope.
"It was an honor to be selected, and I'm glad I got to shine a light on an organization that's helping so many others," she says.
"It's people like Jamie who motivate me every day. They have so much hope."
A longer version of this story originally appeared in Messenger, MD Anderson's bimonthly employee publication.