He faced three bouts with cancer and heart failure, but never missed a day of work
By Jane Adair, for UCHealth
Robert Plick knows he’s defied the odds.
“Based on science and math, I should have been gone four or five times already,” says Plick, a 64-year-old cardiovascular technician at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. “Technically, I shouldn’t be alive.”
Over the last several years, Plick has been hit with three types of cancer, a bout of pneumonia, chemotherapy-induced heart disease and a COVID-19 infection. More than once, he’s come close to death.
During the bouts with cancer and heart failure, not once did Plick call in sick or clock out early from a 12-hour shift. Not when his throat was on fire during a 35-day radiation regimen. Not when it felt like 50-pound weights were strapped to each leg from the sudden onset of heart failure. Not when he felt nauseous and jittery from chemotherapy. Not when his hair fell out.
Plick, who joined UCHealth in 2015 as an ancillary health technician, administers electrocardiograms (EKGs) to dozens of patients a day. He’s also an experienced phlebotomist, an associate minister at Northeast Church of Christ Montbello, and a healthcare educator at Denver-area colleges where, for 25 years, he’s been teaching students how to draw blood and land careers as healthcare technicians.
It was the luck of the draw that his chemotherapy treatments coincided with a hospital staffing shortage. Some weeks he worked 76 hours, administering up to 60 EKGs a day. To do any less, he said, would have left his coworkers in a bind and violated his personal code of honor.
“You show up. You never let the flag hit the ground,” he said, alluding to African American Civil War Sgt. William H. Carney, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for famously saving the American flag in battle. Plick often uses military references to explain his ethos. His late father, Robert J. Plick, was a command sergeant major who embodied “duty, honor and sacrifice,” he said. He also heard his dad extol the virtues of perseverance — to strive to be the last man standing.
For Plick, this means leaning into adversity. It means showing up for work on bad days yet being more than just a guy rolling a machine into a patient’s room and putting sticky disks on a ribcage. He strives to be a listener. An encourager. And sometimes a hand-holder.
“You need to give hope to these patients,” Plick says. “If there’s a guy who’s dejected because he’s fighting cancer, I tell him about my story. I say, ‘You are in the right place with the right people; I am a walking testament for you. I shouldn’t be here.’
“That’s when they say, ‘God bless you. If you can survive, I can survive.’ “
Plick’s grit has impressed coworkers, supervisors and hospital managers, who recently honored him for his stellar attendance record. Even one of his UCHealth oncologists called his mental strength “remarkable.”
Plick reached yet another remarkable milestone recently. A full CT scan revealed that he is now three years cancer free.