As the last week at the VA Hospital is becoming a reality, so is the validation of what field of surgery I want to specialize in. In a specialty where males are dominant, I have somehow found my niche. When I entered SMU three years ago, I knew I wanted to become a cardiothoracic surgeon, and as I exit this program, I am more than sure that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

My final week was by far the best week that I had. I was fortunate enough to scrub in every day and complete new tasks that were given to me. On Monday, I scrubbed in on a triple coronary artery bypass surgery, and I was able to feel the blood pressure in the aorta before the patient went on bypass. I have held a heart that was not beating, however, this was the first time I got to put pressure on an aorta that was pumping blood throughout the entire body. This was so cool!

Megan6.jpg I also gained a new responsibility while harvesting the vein. The physician assistant allowed me to grab the vein from inside the leg using the proper clamp. The endoscope that is in the leg projects the image on a screen, and this is supposed to help guide you throughout the procedure. My goal was to use the screen as a guide in order to grab the vein. Let me tell you, that it is not as easy as it looks. The clamp was constantly going in the opposite direction of where I wanted it to go.

Fortunately, the PA gave me a hint and told me to look at the leg in order to find the direction of the vein and just stick the clamp in. After a few minutes of fiddling around, I finally got the vein out. I guess I should have played more video games as a child in order to master my hand-eye coordination.

(In photo: Megan with two of the three PA’s – Antonio (left) and Tony. Antonio let me grab the vein from the leg and had a lot of patience with me. He taught me a lot.)

On Tuesday, I scrubbed in on the most amazing procedure I have seen thus far. It was a three-part surgery consisting of a double coronary artery bypass, an aortic valve replacement and the repair of the ascending aorta. I have seen the first two procedures multiple times; however, this was the first time I saw a mechanical aortic valve placed in a patient. The aortic valve replacements that I have seen are tissue valves. Again, I was able to hold the heart in this procedure, which is always an amazing feeling.

However, the third part of the procedure I had never seen before, and I was left amazed. The patient had an aneurysm on his ascending aorta, which needed to be repaired. An aneurysm is a bulge that needs to be repaired once it gets to 5 cm. The surgeon cut open the aorta and then sewed in a new aorta. This aorta was tunnel-shaped and made out of a type of fabric. I got to hold the new aorta as the surgeon sewed it into the patient. I wanted to see this procedure, and I am glad that I was given the opportunity.

Just when I thought that this surgery could not get any better, the attending gave me an opportunity that I did not think I was going to get. Before scrubbing out, the attending told the resident to let me close the skin. I wanted to start jumping up and down! The resident taught me how to suture, and I was able to suture the skin. In fact, my sutures turned out better than the resident’s! That was something to laugh about since it took me 10 minutes to put in three sutures.

Wednesday was my last day at the hospital and I scrubbed in on a quadruple coronary artery bypass. I got to hold the heart three times during the surgery, but I was sad at the end because I knew that this was my final surgery. It was a bittersweet surgery.

Megan8.jpg As I look back on my eight weeks, I cannot believe how fast they passed by and how much I have learned. I am grateful to Baylor College of Medicine for accepting me into the DeBakey program, and I encourage pre-med students at SMU to apply to this program. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I am also very thankful to the cardiothoracic team at the VA Hospital for their willingness to teach me, for making me a part of their team, and for becoming my second family for eight weeks. They rock! It was really difficult to say goodbye to them on my last day. However, I am ready to begin my journey toward becoming a woman in cardiothoracic surgery.

(In photo: Megan with the three attendings – (from left) Dr. Cornwell, Dr. Bakaeen, chief of cardiothoracic surgery, and Dr. Chu. What can I say about three amazing surgeons who broadened my horizons?)