March 25, 2021

VUMC scientist Edie Sannella celebrates 90th birthday, puts in full day in virology lab

“I don’t feel 90. And people say they don’t think that I am 90. So, I think I must be doing OK.”

Edith Sannella, MT, (ASCP), - Edie - turns 90 while working in the Virology Lab

Edie Sannella on her 90th birthday. She started work at VUMC 40 years ago, when she was 50. Photo by Susan Urmy

There are a host of adjectives co-workers use to describe Medical Laboratory Scientist Edie Sannella — inspirational, committed and dependable.

They can add to this list: one of the oldest employees at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Sannella celebrated her 90th birthday in March with a beautiful cake and surrounded by socially distanced co-workers.

“I don’t feel 90,” she said. “And people say they don’t think that I am 90. So, I think I must be doing OK.”

Sannella will celebrate her 40-year work anniversary at VUMC in June. She has come full circle since joining the Medical Center in 1981 at the age of 50.

She got her start in the clinical diagnostic virology lab before spending nearly 20 years in the pediatric infectious disease lab. For the last decade, she has worked full time in the virology lab.

Sannella still works full time in VUMC’s clinical diagnostic virology lab. Photo by Susan Urmy

“I love my job. It’s interesting, challenging and always evolving. To be honest, there is nothing better I could be doing so I keep working. I really haven’t thought about retiring. I’m in it for the long haul.”

Sannella said she always wanted to work in the medical field after being introduced to it by her aunt, who was a physician.

“I’ve always worked in hospitals and been involved in medicine,” she said. “I’ve done a lot of different jobs from emptying bed pans, making beds.

“I have a master’s degree in bacteriology and immunology. I thought if I did well, I would apply to medical school, but I met my husband, had children, and in those days you didn’t work.”

She eventually found her way to Vanderbilt. Her supervisor, Jill White-Abell, MT(ASCP) SV, Diagnostic Laboratory Team Leader in Virology and Immunopathology, is happy she did.

“She is an exemplary employee and such an inspiration to all of us with her energy, positive attitude and commitment to good patient care,” said White-Abell.

“She is brilliant and has extensive knowledge of virology and the history of virology that is useful to all of us. She is such a valuable member of our team because she also reviews procedures and policies to keep us up-to-date and to ensure best practices.”

White-Abell said there is no job that Sannella shirks, and she is always willing to try new things and learn new techniques.

Even masks couldn’t hide the happy smiles as Sannella’s coworkers helped her celebrate her 90th birthday. Photo by Susan Urmy

How does Sannella account for her longevity?

“I have always exercised, and I try to eat healthy and keep my mind busy. I read a lot about geography and virology and enjoy the Discovery Channel and other informative nature shows.

“Every morning I eat a grapefruit and do the crossword and other puzzles in The Tennessean, and I have a mid-morning snack of guacamole and chips.”

While she said she has done most everything she wanted to do in her 90 years, including traveling to Europe and visiting every state except Maine, she would still like to take a trip around the Great Lakes.

“I was raised just outside of Buffalo, New York, and I would see these big ships coming into the harbor. I wondered where they came from. I knew Lake Superior to Lake Huron was the route, but I always wanted to follow that path.

“I’ve been blessed with good health,” she said. “If your mind is good, you can go a long way.”

According to records at VUMC Human Resources, Edie Sannella is the second-oldest current VUMC employee. For privacy reasons, HR can’t divulge who the oldest employee is. Of course, if that employee is you, you CAN divulge it, and VUMC Voice would like to talk to you. Please contact the editor at wayne.wood@vumc.org.