November 20, 2017

Medical Professional Spotlight

Recognizing Outstanding Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants in Hampton Roads
Valerie LeGrone, MSN, ANP-BC, CNOR

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(L-R) Dr. Mark A. Fontana, Bariatric Clinical Director, Dr. Caren D. Beasley, Medical Bariatrician, Valerie LeGrone, Nurse Practitioner, Dr. Stephen D. Wohlgemuth, Bariatric Medical Director

Valerie LeGrone is very much a team player. As an adult nurse practitioner at Sentara Comprehensive Weight Loss Solutions, she’s part of the multidisciplinary effort to help patients lose weight, and keep it off. “This is the perfect job for me,” she says. “I’m able to incorporate my lifelong interest in nutrition and passion for exercise into my work with our patients.” Indeed, her education, experience and passions have prepared her well for her demanding work schedule.

LeGrone earned her BSN in 1991 at the University of Pennsylvania as part of a US Navy program. Upon graduation, she was commissioned as an Ensign, stationed at Bethesda Naval Hospital. She was co-assigned to the USNS COMFORT, and had the opportunity to experience deployment during Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti. “We had 12 operating rooms with the ability to strap down tables in rough seas,” she says. “It was wonderful training. Everything I did in my Navy career led to my role as a nurse practitioner and prepared me for what I’m doing now.”

In 2003, she earned her MSN in the Adult Nurse Practitioner program at the University of Texas at Arlington. She began her career with Sentara in 2006, working with palliative care patients at Sentara Leigh Hospital; and in 2009, joined the team at the Comprehensive Weight Loss Center.

Her day begins at Sentara Norfolk General, where bariatric surgeries are performed. “I round on patients in the hospital,” LeGrone says. “I watch their swallow studies to make sure there are no leaks, and I do all patient discharges.” When that work is completed, she returns to the Center to see patients at all stages of pre- and post-surgery care.

When she’s not actively working with patients, she assists with research projects between EVMS and the Center. “It’s fascinating,” she says, describing one current study that looks at the inflammatory markers in the blood of obese patients. “They’re hoping that eventually they’ll be able to draw blood samples that would indicate if someone had these inflammatory markers, which would identify them as being at higher risk for certain conditions, like diabetes or heart attack. We know that weight loss improves these inflammatory markers in patients and improves diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and gout.”

One of the aspects of the work she loves is counseling. “Had I not been a nurse practitioner, I probably would have been a dietician,” she says. “And I’ve always enjoyed exercise. So I really enjoy talking to these patients about diet, about nutrition and exercise. We know that a lot of them are eating for reasons other than hunger: stress, anxiety, monotony, or habit.” She has a variety of strategies to help these patients, but she’s also grateful that the Center has a psychologist on staff when patients need more structured counseling. She’s also realistic about exercise: “A lot of our patients have never exercised at all,” she says, “so we put together a program for them, focusing on what they can and will do. We have a small gym where they can start, with a certified exercise specialist.”

Ultimately, LeGrone says, the Center’s goal is for every patient to be successful with weight loss. “We have all the tools here to help them,” she says. One of the more high-tech tools is an infrared scanner that produces a 3-D image of the body. “It gives a totally accurate scan,” LeGrone says. Patients are scanned every three months, so they see exactly how many inches they’ve lost off their waists, hips, etc., giving them a better grasp of their progress.

“But our main tools are our world-class bariatrician and surgeons,” she says, “and a dedicated professional team that supports them. I truly believe we can be successful with every patient.”