Karen P. Vojtko, who was nurse manager of the cardiac-care and progressive-care units at the University of Maryland Medical Center, where her career spanned more than three decades, died Wednesday of cancer at her Abingdon home. She was 56.
"Karen had passion, warmth and was caring. She saw her role at the medical center as looking after people," said David G. Hunt, director of nursing and patient care services for cardiac care and radiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
"She was an old-fashioned nurse who took things very seriously, and she was profoundly caring," said Mr. Hunt. "She was a great leader and will be sorely missed."
The daughter of an IBM computer engineer and a Social Security Administration clerk, Karen Patricia Vojtko was born in Baltimore and raised in Catonsville. She attended St. Mark parochial school for eight years and graduated in 1975 from Catonsville High School.
After earning an associate's degree in 1978 in nursing from what is now the Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County, she began her nursing career at Bon Secours Hospital, working in the general intensive-care unit.
"She discovered that cardiology was her passion and started working in the cardiac-care intensive-care unit at the University of Maryland Medical Center in 1980," said her sister, Barbara Bigelow of Pasadena.
Ms. Vojtko earned her bachelor's degree in nursing in 1999 at the University of Maryland while continuing to work at the medical center in the cardiac unit, an intensive-care unit for adults suffering from heart disease.
Laura Hearson, who is manager for inpatient cancer care at the University of Maryland Medical Center, was a colleague and friend.
"I worked with her when she was a patient in my unit during her illness. She was such a sweet person," said Ms. Hearson. "Karen was very caring and brought a good sense of humor to her work and high standards to the care of her patients. She also worked hard to grow younger nurses she worked with."
Ms. Vojtko was admired for her ability to work with everyone.
"She could work with both doctors and patients, and was respected by her peers as well. She was also well liked by all," said Ms. Hearson. "And in her final illness, staff and former staffers kept in contact. They remained connected to her and had nothing but admiration for what she had done for them."
For the last two years of her career. until retiring last year because of illness, Ms. Vojtko had been the nurse manager of the cardiac-care unit and progressive-care unit, where patients go when their conditions improve. Under her leadership, the unit earned its first Beacon Award from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.
"She was cautious at first that she would not meet the team's expectations, and became a great leader," said Mr. Hunt.
"Karen had an excellent sense of humor, which she used to get staff and families through dark situations and challenges. She was most helpful to people in their darkest times," he said.
"Although there are many people across the organization who knew and liked Karen during her extensive career here, there are two groups with whom she was most close," wrote Mr. Hunt in a note to the staff. "First, the nursing teams in cardiology, whom Karen genuinely thought of as her 'extended family,' and, second, the staff of the Oncology Center who cared for her so kindly during her battle with illness."
In 2007, Ms. Vojtko became a member of the Chesapeake Chapter of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses and served as a member at large on its board.
From 2008 to 2009, she was chapter treasurer-elect, and served as treasurer from 2009 to 2010. She had been slated to be chapter president when she became ill in 2011.
Ms. Vojtko enjoyed traveling and had visited the Caribbean, Florida, California and Maine, her sister said.
A memorial service will be held at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Schimunek Funeral Home, 610 W. MacPhail Road, Bel Air.
Ms. Vojtko's only survivor is her sister.