Alumni Spotlights

Lana Pasek, B.S.’79, BSN’81, Hopes to Improve Quality of Life for MS Patients

Lana Pasek, B.S.’79, BNS’81, was working as a neurology nurse at Erie County Medical Center when she encountered a significant number of patients with multiple sclerosis. Primarily women between the ages of 20 and 40, these patients experienced vision and mobility problems that indicated the onset of the chronic disease, which affects the central nervous system. As the daughter of two disabled parents, Pasek immediately had a great amount of empathy with the women, especially those with young children, and wanted to do more to help them cope as their conditions progressed.

This fall, Pasek will launch a pilot study on cognitive fatigue, one of the most common and least understood symptoms of MS. This mental exhaustion, experienced by 80-90% of MS patients, can significantly impair their ability to function and their quality of life. Pasek plans to survey MS patients on the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of their disease, as well as the support systems available to them, to determine how cognitive fatigue impacts their well-being. Using this information, she hopes to develop a definition for the phenomenon and determine the ways it affects quality of life so that better therapies can be found. A $5,000 research grant from the International Organization of Multiple Sclerosis Nurses in conjunction with EMD Serono Health Care will help support this work.

While Pasek’s focus is on MS patients, she notes that the results of the study have implications beyond that population, including post-COVID patients with brain fog and soldiers with battle fatigue.

“There’s actually an entire organization devoted to cognitive fatigue that meets every year,” she said.

Pasek, a Ph.D. student in the University at Buffalo School of Nursing, is a nationally board-certified nurse practitioner with a diverse background in healthcare, including acute hospital, critical care, outpatient, primary care, surgical, vascular, neurology, stroke, emergency medicine, toxicology, and national clinical device research.

Pasek wasn’t planning to become a nurse. She came to Niagara University with the intent of going onto medical school, but after graduating with her bachelor of science degree in natural sciences, she decided to enroll in NU’s College of Nursing, instead.

“I had heard so much about the nursing program and was quite impressed with it,” she said.

She worked as an LPN in the intensive care nursery at Children’s Hospital while completing her nursing studies— “They accepted me in a heartbeat, no questions, because I went to Niagara,” she recalled—and then moved into positions in other areas of nursing as her career progressed. In 1991, after earning her master’s degree in science education from UB, she took a brief hiatus from nursing to work for a year in the Buffalo public schools as a mentor to students who were interested in becoming nurses.

She returned to nursing when she accepted a position as a poison information specialist in the poison control center at Children’s Hospital, a job that combined her interest in nursing and education. While there, she conducted research on using pulse oximetry, a noninvasive measure of the oxygen level in the blood, to determine whether patients who had been exposed to hydrocarbons should be admitted to the hospital or seen by their own doctor. She received an award for this research from the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

She returned to UB to earn her nurse practitioner degree and, in 2018, began her Ph.D. studies. Her dissertation “Exploring Cognitive Fatigue and Examining Health-Related Quality of Life Among Persons with Multiple Sclerosis,” will highlight the results of her grant-funded study.

Pasek notes that her interest in research stems from her experience in the microbiology lab at Niagara, the professors whom she describes as engaged and dynamic, and the passion for lifelong learning they instilled in her.

“They stressed to always be inquisitive,” she said.