Sales reps make time for their communities

October 1, 1999
George Hradecky

George Hradecky is a former editor in chief of Pharmaceutical Representative magazine.

Pharmaceutical Representative

PR salutes reps who make a difference.

The stone that sits on Pfizer rep Sheri Bartucz's desk has the words "Attitude is everything" inscribed in it. It is a motto Bartucz tries to incorporate into every aspect of her life, but the words have taken on an even greater meaning since her mother, Sue Hall, was diagnosed with colon and liver cancer two and a half years ago. "It just leveled me to my core," said Bartucz. "It dropped me where everything counts."

Bartucz, who was living in New Jersey at the time of the diagnosis, immediately became involved in a support group for people whose family members were diagnosed with cancer. "It was interactive, and the goal was to help other people…connect with other people who were family members and didn't have control and had lost hope." The group also inspired her to help others who were afflicted with cancer. "I knew that I could not control my mother's cancer, but I could control helping other people in the local community," said Bartucz.

When her mother was diagnosed, Bartucz requested a transfer to Wisconsin so she could be nearby during what doctors said would be the last six months ofHall's life. "When there's a request for a hardship transfer, Pfizer is pretty good about doing whatever they can to get a person near their family," said Lori Greene, Bartucz's district manager.

Once back in Wisconsin, Bartucz contacted the local American Cancer Society, an organization that impressed her because of the way they distribute donations. "Rather then raising funds that go into this big slush pool, I like to raise funds that directly impact my hometown and my local community," said Bartucz.

Bartucz approached her work with the American Cancer Society in much the same way she approaches her work as a pharmaceutical sales rep. She plunged into her involvement with the organization as a participant and an organizer. During large events, she donates up to 10 hours per week to the organization. Bartucz, who has been running competitively since she was 10 years old, participates in all of the society's local running events and helped organize a dinner/dance/casino night at a Kenosha, WI country club last fall. The event raised more than $50,000 for cancer victims - $15,000 more than the evening's fundraising goal of $35,000.

That evening was made even more special by the fact that Bartucz's mother, who had defied her doctor's life expectancy prognosis, was an honorary emcee. At about the same time Bartucz had started her involvement with the National Cancer society, Hall began her participation in a year-long clinical trial for a cancer drug being developed by Pharmacia & Upjohn. Though much of the funding for the clinical trial came from outside sources, many of the funds Bartucz and the American Cancer Society were raising helped make patients like Hall more comfortable during the trial. This was done through the financing programs that provide wigs to chemotherapy patients and support groups.

During the casino night event, Hall spoke about her experience with the clinical trial that helped extend her life and about being a beneficiary of the American Cancer Society's programs. "[She] really touched a lot of people's hearts, and it was pretty teary because she explained that she was a living example of what the funds that were being donated were for. So [people at the event] were seeing the live benefits," said Bartucz.

Beyond the donations and the clinical trial, Bartucz attributes her mother's success to her own positive outlook. "Her attitude is absolutely phenomenal," noted Bartucz. "I would say she's 10 times more enthusiastic than I am." Referring back to the words inscribed in the stone on her desk, Bartucz added, "My mom has really been the greatest example and role model for that."

Lori Pickette, Bayer Pharmaceuticals

When she completed graduate school, Bayer Pharmaceuticals representative Lori Pickette decided to reward herself by purchasing a bearded collie, a breed that had always particularly appealed to her. There was a catch, however – bearded collies cost between $600 and $800. "To be able to rationalize spending that much money on a dog, I told myself I would get her involved in pet therapy – going to nursing homes and that type of thing." said Pickette. So the bearded collie, eventually named Murphy (after Murphy's Irish Stout) was purchased, and Pickette set about researching organizations that use pets as therapy.

She didn't have to do too much research before fate intervened. On a sales call one day, she overheard a woman mention the words, "Paws for Friendship - a pet therapy group."

"My ears just perked up," said Pickette, "and when the woman was done speaking to whomever she was speaking, I pulled her aside and said, 'You do pet therapy?'" The woman she had overheard turned out to be Jan Schmidt, the founder of Paws for Friendship, a non-profit organization that brings animals into nursing homes and special education facilities. The woman gave Pickette her number and told her to call her for more information. Said Pickette: "The rest is history."

Murphy would not be alone in visiting nursing homes with Pickette. Guinness, a mutt Pickette euphemistically refers to as "a designer dog" she rescued from the side of the road, eventually joined them as well.

The story of Guinness' adoption says as much about Pickette's soft-heartedness as her involvement with Paws for Friendship does. "I stopped by a gas station to use a pay phone and she [Guinness] was sitting there...there was just something about this dog that grabbed my heart and wouldn't let go," Pickette said.

According to Pickette, both dogs approach their jobs as therapy pets with much enthusiasm. Whenever she puts on the turquoise shirt that identifies her as a Paws for Friendship volunteer, both dogs begin to act differently. "Every time I put that shirt on and walk around the house, Guinness and Murphy are sort of looking at each other like, 'Hey, hey, look! She's got the shirt on,'" said Pickette.

Murphy and Guinness are on their best behavior during these visits. "When they go to a nursing home, they know why they are there and they go up to the people and wag their tails and let the people pet them," said Pickette. Making sure that the pets are non-threatening is an important part of the Paws for Friendship qualification process. A veterinarian screens each potential therapy pet for aggressive behavior and ensures they have had the appropriate shots before they are allowed into the organization.

When asked how the residents react to the animals coming to visit, Pickette tells the story of one nursing home she visited with Guinness and Murphy where one of the residents was sitting, off by herself, in an armchair. The resident was staring into space with her mouth open. "You could tell that she wasn't quite with us, she was off in her own dreamland," Pickette remembered. So Pickette and Murphy began to approach the woman. As soon as they entered her field of vision, the old woman's entire demeanor changed. Pickette recalled, "She saw Murphy, and Murphy looked up at her, tail wagging, and she started petting Murphy and saying, 'Oh, hi puppy!'"

"The benefits are just amazing," Pickette added. "[You] see people who can't even really move, and then you bring the dogs up so they can at least move their hand to the side of the bed so the dog can lick them or so they can touch [the dogs]….You can see the smile firsthand. You can see the connection."

Pickette hypothesized that bringing the dogs into the nursing homes provides a conversational bridge, enabling her to reach out to the older members of her community. "If you went into a nursing home and said, 'Hi, I'd like to visit and talk to you for a moment.' There'd be an impenetrable wall that would go up," said Pickette. "But if you have a dog with you, they start talking to you."

Beyond the benefits to the residents, Pickette also finds her nursing home visits personally satisfying. "It's a totally rewarding organization for everybody involved," she said. "The dogs love it because their getting petted and they get to go someplace new. The residents love it because they don't get many visitors, and I can make a few people happy just by doing something as easy as taking my dogs in someplace." PR

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