Siara Wallace, CMA (AAMA), knows firsthand the reality of being a patient. The 32-year-old underwent open heart surgery in high school due to a familial connective tissue disorder that causes multiple aortic abnormalities.

“My mom and her brothers passed away from [the condition], and two of my cousins have it, plus one of their sons. Unfortunately, [physicians] don’t know what it is. They thought it was Marfan syndrome or [hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia], but it’s neither,” says Wallace.

Living with the condition drew Wallace to the medical field. She first got her bachelor’s degree in sports science with a minor in psychology. After college, she considered going to graduate school for cardiac nursing, but in South Carolina, where she lives, few job opportunities in the field are available.

“My mom’s health declined at that time, and I wanted to stay near her, so I ended up taking care of an elderly woman who had Alzheimer disease for three years and really enjoyed it,” explains Wallace.

Wallace decided to enroll in a medical assisting program and completed her practicum at a nursing home. When she graduated in 2017, she got a job with an independent contractor of nursing homes and rehabilitation centers that hires nurse practitioners and physicians to treat patients at various facilities. She traveled across South Carolina to work at their different locations.

“As the medical coordinator, I was the liaison between the floor nurses, patients, and practitioners,” she explains. “If a patient got a cold, wasn’t feeling well, or needed new medication, that’s where my job came in. I made sure everybody was seen in the facility.”

She also managed medical charts, handled scheduling, and trained other medical assistants on staff. Her favorite role was conducting telehealth visits with residents and off-site physicians.

“I’d go into the patient’s room, and if the [physician] needed to see a bed sore, the nurse and I would roll them over and show the [physician] the bed sore via the app. Then we’d hold the device so the [physician] and patient could talk,” she says. “That was the highlight of my day because I got to see the patients. I know what it’s like to lay in that bed. I’ve been there.”

She also excelled at talking to older patients’ family members.

“When a patient [is] sitting in a nursing home or hospital, it can be frustrating when [they’re] waiting and just want somebody to listen. I always try to be that person who gives somebody a few moments,” says Wallace.

After working in this role for seven years, she had to step back from medical coordinating in January 2022 due to severe complications from a surgery she underwent the previous December to correct an arteriovenous malfunction. After recovering from surgery, she began experiencing neurological difficulties, including bouts of blanking out.

“I would log in to the computer at work and couldn’t remember my password, and so that’s when I knew I couldn’t work anymore,” says Wallace.

The decision to stop was heartbreaking because Wallace was at a great place in her career and loved her role as a medical assistant.

“I really didn’t want to stop working, but going under anesthesia so many times in the last couple years has really slowed me down, unfortunately,” she says.

Wallace hopes neurobehavioral counseling will help restore her brain functioning to full capacity and that she can get back to medical assisting. “I’ll do what it takes so I can be there for patients and their families again,” she says.