December 16, 2022 – Sonya Wasserman was a single mother with a 2-year-old daughter when she decided to make a change.
“I wanted her to have a better life so I went back to school,” Wasserman says.
So, in 1997, the Burnwell, Ky., resident began a three-year journey, working part-time while studying for an associate’s degree in nursing at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College.
Caitlyn Hunt, now 26, doesn’t really remember those early years of struggle.
Her memories of life since then, however, are clear.
“My mom has always been there for me,” she says. “She’s always been my biggest cheerleader.
“She’s given me everything I ever needed.”
Among Wasserman’s most important gifts to her daughter, the pair say, are determination and a desire to help others.
“I’ve always told her every day you’re given is a gift and it’s what you do with that gift that shows the true character and the person you are,” Wasserman says.
Much of Hunt’s life lessons, she says, were learned within the walls of Tug Valley ARH Regional Medical Center, where Wasserman has worked since 2004.
“I basically grew up at Tug Valley ARH,” Hunt says, adding some of her best memories were made visiting the hospital’s skilled nursing center, where her mother works as director and administrator.
“Anything she was doing community service-wise, she would pull me in,” she says. “I helped with Christmas parties and visited residents.
“It feels like family there.”
And so Wasserman says it’s no surprise that her daughter, now halfway through her third year at the University of Pikeville – Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine, has officially signed on to work with ARH.
“I always figured she would work at ARH,” Wasserman says without hesitation. “She always said she would.”
Hunt won’t work directly with her mother but, after graduation and three years of residency, will instead work about an hour away at Highlands ARH Regional Medical Center.
At Highlands ARH, Hunt will work under the supervision of Tim Hatfield, ARH Big Sandy Regional CEO.
Hatfield, a former CEO of Tug Valley ARH, says he looks forward to working with Hunt.
“I’ve known Sonya (Wasserman) for probably 34 years now and I’ve watched Caitlyn grow up,” he says. “I’m very excited to know she will be joining us.
“It’s great to watch a second generation of ARH develop right before our eyes.”
Hunt won’t be the only one graduating in the spring of 2024.
Wasserman, who received her bachelor’s in nursing from West Virginia Tech (now WVU Tech) in 2002, is also back in school.
“I started work on my masters (in nursing) after I graduated in 2002, but took a break because of family issues,” she says, explaining juggling work, school and caring for a sick relative didn’t leave her with enough time for Caitlyn.
The break lasted a little longer than she expected, but in August she enrolled at Northern Kentucky University.
“I can’t have things in my life that are unfinished,” she says of her decision to, at 53, pursue her master’s degree, becoming a nurse practitioner.
“I don’t like to leave anything I started,” she continues. “I’ve always told Caitlyn, when we start something, we finish.”
Mother and daughter both recently completed their fall semesters and, after a 20-year break from school, Wasserman proudly reports she earned two As and a B.
“It’s really exciting to be back in school, but also stressful,” she says. “So that feels really great.”
Hunt, who is set to marry in April 2023, says she’s enjoying watching her mother work toward her dream.
“I’m definitely so proud of her,” she says. “I’m excited that she’s taking care of unfinished business. It’s something she’s wanted for a long time.”
Though the women will both be part of the ARH family in the not-so-distant future, neither is sure of her path beyond that.
“Time will tell,” Hunt says, explaining she’s leaning toward internal medicine, but has also considered obstetrics. “But I’m excited to join the ARH family.”
And Wasserman says she loves the Tug Valley ARH skilled nursing center too much to consider leaving.
“I still want to work in geriatrics,” she says. “I’m very attached to my position, my residents, my staff and to ARH.
“I don’t know what the future holds, but I know it will be a future with ARH.”
With both set to receive their diplomas in May 2024, perhaps the bigger question is what happens if their graduations fall on the same day.
“We’ve talked about that,” Hunt says with a laugh. “I hope that doesn’t happen.”
But Wasserman says it’s not a big deal if it does.
“I’m so very proud of her,” she says. “I’ll go to hers.
“That’s what moms do.”
Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH), is a not-for-profit health system operating 14 hospitals in Barbourville, Hazard, Harlan, Hyden, Martin, McDowell, Middlesboro, Paintsville, Prestonsburg, West Liberty, Whitesburg, and South Williamson in Kentucky and Beckley and Hinton in West Virginia, as well as multi-specialty physician practices, home health agencies, home medical equipment stores and retail pharmacies. ARH employs more than 6,500 people with an annual payroll and benefits of $330 million generated into our local economies. ARH also has a network of more than 600 active and courtesy medical staff members. ARH is the largest provider of care and the single largest employer in southeastern Kentucky and the third-largest private employer in southern West Virginia.