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Nursing Is in Her Blood

Former volleyball star trades in her sneakers for a stethoscope, using teamwork to improve the lives of her patients.

Kathryn Dercher-Barone, former Syracuse volleyball player, with family sitting on grass by water.
Kathryn (Dercher) Barone ’06 with her husband, Dave '07, and their kids, Hank and Chloe.

Kathryn (Dercher) Barone ’06 is not one to rest on her laurels, but when it comes to Syracuse University Volleyball , she can’t help but wax nostalgic.

“My student-athlete experience was pretty amazing, especially my senior year,” says the former co-captain, recalling the historic 2005 campaign, when her squad set a program record with 11 conference wins. “We had a tough schedule, but everyone rallied to create a winning season.”

Volleyball player serving the ball.
A four-time letter winner and starter, Barone remains a vital part of the volleyball program's storied legacy.

A setter-turned-defensive specialist, Barone was a symphony of athleticism. Fast. Nimble. Creative. She had a knack for finding the ball on almost every play, setting up the hitter for the proverbial bump-set-spike.

Barone also racked up a lot of hardware. A four-time letter winner and starter, she received the University’s Lucille H. Verhulst Sportswoman of the Year Award in recognition of her accomplishments on and off the court. Barone also landed a spot on the BIG EAST’s All-Academic Team and the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll.

The Daily Orange described her enthusiasm as “motivational.” “Kathryn is always standing, always engaged,” then Assistant Coach Alexis Dankulic told reporters. “She can be a spark plug—a real positive part of the team.”

Still at the top of her game, Barone now works from a different playbook. Gone are the form-fitting jerseys and high-performance footwear. In their place are reusable, monochromatic scrubs and sensible shoes. Knee pads and ankle braces? She no longer needs them, but some of her patients might.

Barone is a progressive care certified nurse at the University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City. Since 2016, she has worked in the hospital’s Center for Advanced Heart Care, helping patients recover from open-heart surgery, heart transplants and other cardiothoracic procedures. Her teammates are some of the best in the nation—cardiovascular and thoracic surgeons, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and technicians—who provide patient-centered care in a 28-bed step down unit.

She credits her mother, a retired registered nurse, with inspiring her to answer the call. “My mom is someone I emulate on a daily basis,” says Barone, a nominee for the DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses. “She always told me to become a nurse. I guess it took me a while to realize how right she was.”

Listening More, Talking Less

Barone considers her job a homecoming of sorts. After earning a bachelor’s degree in communication and rhetorical studies from the College of Visual and Performing Arts , she briefly worked in public relations and human resources in New York City, but these positions didn’t feel like the right fit. Heeding her mother’s advice, Barone enrolled at William Jewell College in Missouri and earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Her first postgraduate assignment was in the post-anesthesia unit at NYU Langone Health. It was there she honed her technique and bedside manner while caring for patients awaiting transfer to another floor of the hospital or discharge. “The job required quick thinking, strong assessment skills, and being able to anticipate and intervene in an event before it went awry,” Barone says. “At NYU, I became a nurse, applying what I had learned in nursing school to each patient.”

While Barone reveled in the hustle and bustle of city life, she and her husband, Dave ’07, an alumnus of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and a former co-captain of the men’s rowing team, longed to be near family in the Midwest. They also wanted to start one of their own.

The opportunity to return to the University of Kansas Health System, where Barone had trained as a student, proved irresistible. “Today, I couldn’t be happier,” beams the mother of two. “I am able to do what I love at one of the top hospitals in the Midwest, while raising a family.”

Anna Werner, the hospital’s director of nursing, marvels at Barone’s concern for others. She describes her coworker as a “fierce advocate” for patients, a “friendly and kind” professional with an infectious smile. “Many of our patients have undergone intense cardiac or thoracic surgery, leaving them feeling pretty rough. Kathryn’s mere presence makes a difference in their recovery,” says Werner, who hired and managed Barone in the Cardiothoracic Surgery Progressive Care Unit.

Werner also applauds Barone’s ability to adapt to change. When it came time for the hospital to implement a new heart transplant and ventricular assist device program, Barone was among the first to train how to care for patients with the device. “Her reward is seeing patients leave our hospital better than when they arrived,” Werner says.

Experience Is the Best Teacher

Volleyball players celebrate on the court.
Barone (No. 4) says she was the team's unofficial cheerleader. "I had a big mouth," she laughs. (Photo taken in 2005-06.)

Barone grew up in the Kansas City suburb of Weatherby Lake, idolizing her sister and brother, both of whom played collegiate volleyball in Iowa. Following in their footsteps, she compiled 800 assists, 80 blocks and 135 kills in high school.

As a club volleyball player, Barone was a perpetual road warrior. It was during one of her East Coast tournaments that she caught the attention of then Syracuse Volleyball Head Coach Jing Pu. The two-time BIG EAST Coach of the Year, who coached at Syracuse from 1995 to 2011, recruited Barone as a setter but transformed her into a defensive specialist.

Despite her relatively average size, Barone was a formidable presence on the court—a scrappy playmaker who knew how to exploit opponents’ weaknesses. “I also had a big mouth,” she laughs, reflecting on her role as the team’s unofficial cheerleader. “I was never the strongest or biggest player in terms of hitting and blocking, but I was a good passer and server.”

Co-captain Aila Dommestrup ’06 says Barone’s moxie was evident from day one. “Kathryn’s never-ending energy was fuel for our team and set her apart as a leader as early as our freshman year,” she remembers.

For all her on-court success, Barone has not been defined by it. She cannot recall the last time she has picked up a volleyball—maybe before the birth of her daughter in July. Still, the core values that marked her time as a student-athlete resound today in her accomplishments at home and on the job.

“Her ability to lead and be passionate about everything she does has established her as an outstanding nurse,” says Dommestrup, a licensed psychologist in Baltimore. “Kathryn is the glue of our group of friends that has been together since college. She’s a constant source of joy and hilarity.”

Ever humble and grateful, Barone takes the praise in stride. “Experience is a great teacher,” she adds. “In victory or defeat, you always learn something, which helps you grow and develop as a person.”

Rob Enslin

This story was published on .

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