Thomas Tribble

In the Spotlight: Thomas Tribble

Thomas Tribble has been at UK HealthCare since 2004, starting as an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation specialist contractor with the perfusion team before moving into his current role. Tribble works in the operating rooms and the adult cardiovascular intensive care unit, supporting patients on left ventricular assist devices and ECMO, an external circuit that provides artificial heart and/or lung support. He also serves as a liaison for the neonatal and pediatric ECMO team.

For patients with severe respiratory challenges that cannot be met with a ventilator, the ECMO machine drains blood from the veins, oxygenates it and then circulates it back into the patient’s body. If cardiac support is necessary, the machine can provide extracorporeal cardiopulmonary resuscitation, which can support heart function until the patient recovers. The definition seems simple, but it belies the highly technical nature of mechanical circulatory support.

“I chose healthcare for a career because I knew it would always challenge me,” said Tribble, who was inspired by both his mother’s career as a licensed practical nurse and his father’s military career. “

I split the difference and became an army medic and surgical technologist. I enjoyed observing and participating in the assortment of surgical procedures and the complexity they present on a daily basis. Later in my journey, I was amazed at the innovation in mechanical circulatory support and the ability to extend life with artificial heart and lung devices.”

Tribble recently received a Saha Award for Patient-Centered Care, which recognizes professionalism, a moral obligation to patient-centered care and the ability to lead by example to advocate for change in the UK HealthCare culture. We chatted with Tribble via Zoom to learn more about him, find out what inspires him and to get his advice for overcoming challenges in and out of work.

What is one work or life experience that you appreciate for the lessons you learned?

I would say it’s a little bit of life and work. I’m the oldest of two children and spent my childhood living on various military bases throughout the country and overseas. I consider Ohio home but have spent considerable time in Texas, Colorado and Germany during my upbringing. I was fortunate to experience various cultures and communities that enlightened my perspective of the world.

I was in the military [Army] for five years as a medic, and that sort of set my course for everything. Just having that experience of dealing with multiple people, learning to be flexible, knowing conditions may change in a moment’s notice and you have to adapt and multitask – those are the things that shaped me when I was really young. I went right after high school at 18. I did two years in Berlin and then I served in the first Gulf War in a MASH/EVAC hospital, so I was in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as well. Then I was assigned to a mobile medical unit in California for a couple years towards the end. It was a great experience for me.

How do you foster self-growth outside of work?

I’ve got three teenage daughters, so just raising them promotes maturity and growth in myself as I’m trying to guide them. I can actually see myself in them during that particular time in life, and I think all that helps to mature you as you move forward.

What is the most courageous thing you have done?

I don’t really see it as courageous, but my friends say that me donating a kidney to my daughter would be considered courageous. It was a no-brainer to me.

What inspires you most in life?

My faith; belief in a higher power; recognizing the everyday miracles we see in healthcare, no matter how small they seem to be. It inspires me to strive for bigger and better every day, whether by leading or at times following those who portray those same core values.

A co-worker comes to you with a time-sensitive challenge. What is the first thing you do?

I think it all starts with listening to what the issue is. If it’s something you can help with directly, take the time to do that. Sometimes it’s just listening; someone just needs to vent a bit. Other times you may be able to help directly by offering personal insight, or redirect them to the resources that can help them.

If you could have any superpower related to your job, what would it be?

The usual one would be instant healing. The other thing is being able to be at multiple places at the same time would help.

Who is your role model, and why?

I would say my grandmother and my father. My grandmother instilled all of the core values [as the] matriarch of the whole family. I just lost her recently back in December; she was 99 years old, so there’s a lot of experience she would sit down and talk to me about over the years. I appreciate everything she went through, and I think of her every day and try to instill that in my children as well. And then my father was able to help me steer through some of the common obstacles young men face growing up.

What project or accomplishment has been most significant in your career, and why?

We helped established the first ECMO transport program in the state. Myself along with some of our cardiothoracic surgeons and administrators established a group of nurses, perfusionists and paramedics that can go to other centers and transport critically ill patients on ECMO support back to UK HealthCare for advanced therapy. A lot of the smaller centers don’t have the resources to keep [patients] on support for long periods of time.

We service not only Kentucky, but some of our surrounding states as well – West Virginia, Tennessee – and bring patients back to UK. Once they’re recovered enough to come off of ECMO, we can send them back to their referring centers. The whole process of establishing that – getting state regulations changed as far as transport, training for the team and then actually activating them – and seeing your initial thoughts and dreams come to fruition was a very fulfilling project.

What do the Living DIReCT (diversity, innovation, respect, compassion, teamwork) values mean to you in your own words?

Treat others as you want to be treated. We’re all different; we all come from different backgrounds and have different experience. Find the common areas in which you agree on, listen – everybody wants to be heard – and then work together to accomplish the mission that’s in front of you.


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This content was produced by UK HealthCare Brand Strategy.