Agnes Weisiger gets it done

The same work ethic that defined her nursing career now drives her philanthropic commitment to Novant Health

During her 40-year career as a nurse, Agnes Bidner Weisiger was known for her willingness to do what had to be done, no matter what.

After attending Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Weisiger graduated from Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing in 1963 and worked in the intensive care and coronary care units at what is now Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center. In the hopes of leaving the night shift in favor of the 9-to-5, she soon joined a local medical practice.

But Weisiger couldn’t stay away. She’d work her eight hours at the medical office and then head to the hospital.

Weisiger went back to school and attended UNC Chapel Hill as a member of the third class of the family nurse practitioner (NP) program, graduating in 1973. Then, she attended UNC Charlotte to earn her B.S. in nursing. For several years, she was the only NP in Charlotte and became the defacto lobbyist for the profession, teaching the medical community that NPs were an asset, not a threat.

Her efforts resulted in greater acceptance of NPs across the healthcare community, giving more patients access to the care they deserved. At one point, she was working with 19 nursing homes in the Charlotte area, providing care in between doctors’ visits, in addition to her regular job.

“Throughout my career, I was the catchall — ultrasounds and Holter monitors, among other things, and seeing patients,” Weisiger said. “Whatever the need, you just get it done.”

That philosophy has carried into all aspects of Weisiger’s life: Wherever she sees a need, she does whatever she can to help.

Although she is now retired, she still looks for opportunities to make an impact in Charlotte’s healthcare community — and then works diligently to bring those ideas to life. Her work to fund the new Novant Health Agnes B. and Edward I. Weisiger Cancer Institute is a perfect case in point. In 2017, she and her husband, Ed, made a multimillion-dollar contribution to fund the creation of the institute, which will share space with the new Novant Health Claudia W. and John M. Belk Heart & Vascular Institute to provide patients with comprehensive, leading-edge care in one state-of-the-art facility. The building opened in October 2020.

“I want this to be a place where patients can find hope — hope for a clear future,” Weisiger said. “When people are diagnosed with cancer, there’s an overwhelming sense of panic and fear. I know because I’ve been there. My husband has been there. My hope is this place will bring a sense of calm where patients will instantly feel they’ve come to a place where they can get the best possible care and get on their way back to health, as soon as possible.” 

Weisiger’s first encounter with cancer was through her work with Presbyterian Medical Center.

“Back in the mid-1960s, I gave chemotherapy to cancer patients. At the time, we had no gloves, no hood, no eye goggles,” she said. “I was extremely involved with patients with cancer.”

Then, cancer became personal. In 1989, at the age of 58, her husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The couple sought treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and it worked. Ed has been cancer free ever since.

In 2011, Weisiger began her own journey with cancer. She found a lump and was soon diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. She received a bilateral mastectomy and chemotherapy at Presbyterian Medical Center, and once again, the treatment worked.

“I went in for my mammogram, and it was positive. The next day, a biopsy was performed. The day after that, I saw a surgeon. The process was click, click, click and very efficient,” Weisiger said. “That’s what you want when you hear the word ‘cancer.’ You want to get on the path to getting better as soon as possible. And yet so many in our community don’t even have access to the first stage of the process.”

To that end, Weisiger has taken special interest in increasing access to mammograms. In 2011, she and her husband helped fund the first mobile mammography unit at Presbyterian Medical Center, a 38-foot multifunctional coach that offers digital mammography screenings throughout the community. In 2016, they also funded a second mobile mammography unit offering digital screenings. 

“There are many people who can’t get to appointments due to work or family obligations. This unit makes the process easier for them,” she said.

Then, if their screening results in a diagnosis, they can receive treatment at the new Weisiger Cancer Institute, which brings the full suite of cancer services together under one roof, streamlining the treatment process while continuing to deliver remarkable care.

While Weisiger has a clear vision for the new Cancer Institute, she also maintains a profound appreciation for the people who are bringing that vision to life — the people who, like herself, are committed to doing what needs to be done. Recently, she reached out to the construction manager for the Cancer Institute project and invited him and his team to her 1,700-acre pine tree farm in Lancaster, South Carolina, for some fishing, hiking, sporting clays and a change of scenery to thank them for their hard work in making this institute possible.

“I worked all my life, and I appreciate people who take pride in what they do,” Weisiger said. “I can tell you, this construction team is doing a great job. There are so many people involved in a project the size and scope of the new cancer center, and it’s important to recognize that and ensure we do everything we can to thank those who have done their part. Inviting this team out for a day at the farm was the least I could do.”

At Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation, we are profoundly grateful for the generosity of donors like Agnes Weisiger, whose commitment to our work has made so much possible.

You can do your part, too, with a gift to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation. As a nonprofit health system, we rely on our community to support the remarkable care we provide. We hope you’ll join Agnes and give today.

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