KISSIMMEE - Since she was a little girl growing up in Green Bay, Wis., Sara DeNardis knew she that one day she would be involved in medicine and healing. But it wasn’t until she was completing her undergraduate degree that she decided her patients would be humans.
“I had a big love for animals and I wanted to be a veterinarian,” she said. “That’s why I went to the University of Wisconsin.” While studying bacteriology and genetics there, DeNardis worked at the Primate Research Center studying rhesus macaques. That experience taught her “I liked animals, but I didn’t want that to be my career. ... Besides, getting into veterinarian school is as hard, if not harder, than getting into medical school,” she laughed.
That realization led DeNardis to the Osteopathic Medical Center at Des Moines University, where she earned her medical degree in June 2000. It was there she settled on her specialty. “During med school, I really enjoyed women’s health and therefore completed residency training in OB/GYN. During residency, I decided that delivering babies wasn’t my thing,” she said. “Instead I preferred complex pelvic surgery. And I’ve always had an interest in oncology, so that’s how I decided to specialize in GYN oncology.”
While a resident at a hospital in Mount Clemens, Mich., DeNardis (whose name then was Meinz) met a medical school student named Michael DeNardis; he eventually became an OB/GYN – and her husband. She spent two years in private practice in Port Huron before accepting “the only gynecologic oncology fellowship in the country at the time,” which was at Florida Hospital in Orlando, she said. While there, Mike DeNardis set up his private practice in Kissimmee, but when she could not find the right job in the Orlando area, she accepted a GYN oncology post at North Florida Regional Medical Center in Gainesville.
All the relocations were a challenge, DeNardis said. “We have lived apart many times. The longest was for about 6 months. ... It’s been a long road to where we actually live in the same house.”
That house is in Celebration, where the DeNardises have lived for about a year with Tara and Harry, rescued Rhodesian Ridgebacks. DeNardis said she is excited about adding a vegetable garden to her herb garden this year. “We love to cook,” she said, and they share responsibilities. “Mike grills and I do everything else!”
On weekends when they aren’t on call, the couple also enjoy trips on their 2009 Harley-Davidson Fat Bob. Her weekday recreation is running about six miles three times a week, which keeps her in shape for “the couple of half-marathons I run each year,” she said.
And, during football season, Sundays are spent watching her beloved Green Bay Packers, an NFL franchise in which she and many, many more cheeseheads own stock. “My parents still live one mile from Lambeau Field,” she said. (Husband Mike is a fan of the rival Detroit Lions, but – so far – it is an agreeable disagreement.)
But the bulk of DeNardis’ time is spent with patients in her office at Osceola GYN Oncology, or in the operating room at Osceola Regional Medical Center in Kissimmee. “I’m in surgery three days a week and in the office two days,” she said, adding that a typical day is 10 or 11 hours and she is on call 24/7. “I love the dichotomy between complex surgery versus caring for the patient in the outpatient setting and getting to know their families,” she said.
DeNardis’ practice is dedicated to treating gynecological malignancies, including cervical, endometrial, ovarian, vaginal or vulvar cancers. More than half the surgeries she performs, DeNardis said, are with the minimally invasive da Vinci® Surgical System, which she has been using since her fellowship. “The (da Vinci) robot is the reason I came to this hospital,” which is operated by her employer, HCA Central Florida, she said.
DeNardis also is working with a group of like-minded medical professionals who are in the “embryonic phase” of establishing a charitable clinic for gynecological surgical services. “The Every Woman Foundation is just getting off the ground,” said DeNardis, 39, and it’s a great program.”
According to its website, the EWF “is a non-profit organization that provides surgical care to uninsured women with debilitating ‘womanly’ problems. We are a humanitarian relief organization that is committed to creating community awareness for a variety of women’s health issues. No woman is turned away based on race, religion or family’s ability to pay for these medical costs.”
“One goal is to offer surgical procedures for women,” DeNardis explained, “but another goal is education about women’s topics.” The EWF does not have a physical space yet, she said, but should soon. (More information is available at foundation4women.com.)
If she can find time between her current professional and personal activities, DeNardis said she wants to learn to play the cello. “No particular reason other than I like the sound of it,” she said. She also would like to have a greenhouse for orchids. “So far, I’ve only had one flower twice.”
But those interests may depend on her success at another pursuit. When asked what one goal she would like to accomplish that she may not have begun yet because of demands on her time, DeNardis’ reply was succinct: “Start a family.”