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Sarah Jane Wilkens is a pediatric cardiologist for Norton Healthcare.

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2021 Most Admired Woman — Health/Health Care

Pediatric cardiologist, Norton Healthcare
Family: Dog, Eddie
Neighborhood: Highlands

Sarah Jane Wilkens has a special love of baseball. She even thought about becoming an announcer for the Arizona Diamondbacks at one point in her life. In addition to having special memories of attending baseball games with her dad when she was growing up, she loves the structure and math of the game. “Compared to basketball and football where I don’t know what’s going on, baseball feels very organized,” she says.

You have a graduate degree in public health in addition to your medical degree. Do you use that knowledge often?

I studied mostly epidemiology and biostatistics. When you think about research, how we do studies, and how you read articles, I use all of that every day. When you’re looking at the literature and trying to apply that to your patients, that’s something I use.

Did you always want to focus on pediatric cardiology?

My dad is a doctor; he does internal medicine and takes care of older patients. That’s what I assumed I would do. I did my pediatric rotation and was like, “This is so much better.” It felt like a very easy decision. I was interested in cardiology by the end of my fourth year of medical school. I did a rotation at the University of Iowa, and they were wonderful to me.

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What are the most enjoyable aspects of your career?

I take care of kids who have heart failure or have heart transplants. I get to do hospital stuff, and I get to do outpatient care. One of the big goals of heart transplant that we talk to families about is being able to send kids to school and have them live a normal life. I get to see them grow and turn into real people. When you have somebody with heart failure or a heart transplant, you get to know families really well.

What are the challenges?

In some cases, no matter how hard we try, we can’t save them. You get invested in these kids and you want them to do well. Having to take care of kids along that whole spectrum until their death, too, is hard, but also a really important part of my job is to take care of families through that process. Honestly, the most important part of my job.

You are a book lover. Who are your favorite female characters?

The two books I’ve read over and over have been Harriet the Spy and Pride and Prejudice, both of which have strong female characters.

What is something fascinating about the heart that most lay people don’t know?

Your heart is a pump and is controlled by electrical activity; all the cardiac cells in the heart have electrical activity. Your heart beats as fast as this certain pacemaker cell in your heart goes. If something happens and that doesn’t work well, every other cell in your heart has the capability of telling your heart to beat. There’s lots of redundancies for a system that you need to work your entire life.

You grew up with cats and dogs, but now have only a dog. What do you like about dogs?

I go hiking and camping, and I wanted a companion for those things. I got my dog when I was in Chicago, and then I moved to California to finish training, and then I moved here. I feel like the dog is one of the best ways I have of meeting people.

What is something you can’t get the knack of?

I have tried to make caramels about four different times, and I have ruined them every single time. I can’t seem to figure it out.

If you could witness any event in history, what would you want to see and why?

If I could go back and see Babe Ruth or Jackie Robinson play baseball that would be cool. The other people I would like to see are Helen Taussig and Vivien Thomas. Helen Taussig was one of the first female cardiothoracic surgeons. She worked with Vivien Thomas, an African American veterinary technician. They worked to help babies with congenital heart disease; they did one of the first surgeries to make the BT shunt.

P.S. Purchase your tickets for the revamped Most Admired Woman event, being held at The Gillespie. Be a part of history as former Today’s Woman owners Cathy Zion and Anita Oldham pass the baton to new owner Tawana Bain. You won’t want to miss this night of sisterhood!

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