Varsha in Houston

Varsha is a sophomore BBA Scholar and SMU Distinguished Scholar majoring in finance and biochemistry. This summer, she is participating in the Michael E. DeBakey Summer Surgery Program at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston.

Set on surgery

V-100_0931-sm.jpg My last day. As I sit back and think about this summer, I’m surprised at how quickly everything has gone by, whether I count the days in seconds, days, or cases (some lasting under 10 minutes, and the longest that I have scrubbed in lasting 8-9 hours).

Varsha-100_0901-sm.jpgI have learned so much more than I had ever expected to learn, thanks to not only Dr. Howell and Dr. Whisenand (in photo), my mentors, but also numerous other surgeons at the Methodist Hospital and St. Luke’s Hospital. I came in, not knowing what to expect, and sought confirmation if the career of a doctor, a surgeon – to be exact – was the right path for me.

V-100_0903-sm.jpgAt the end of eight weeks, I now have that confirmation, as I learned so much about medicine and different procedures, as well as how to make a difference in the life of a patient. I was in the room as the patient expressed concerns about the surgery pre-op, when the patient was operated upon, and as this same patient progressed back to health.

V-100_0935-sm.jpgI had the ability to connect with students with similar interests from different colleges, met amazing surgeons who were willing to teach, see patients’ look of joy when they were back in good health. During this amazing summer experience, I have discovered not only how much I want to be a surgeon (maybe even a heart surgeon), but more important, why I want to become a surgeon.

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New lung at work

I got to scrub in on my first transplant case today, a single lung transplant! It was amazing. I got to feel the old lungs, and mentally compared the visual differences between the old lung, which was covered in black and gray patches, and healthy new pink lung.

I had a quick anatomy lesson on the pulmonary artery, vein and nerves as the right lung of the COPD patient (who was also a smoker) was taken out. When the new lung arrived from Oklahoma, I watched as it was put in and as it expanded. What an interesting experience!

This week, I also saw my third orthopedic surgery case: I have seen a hip replacement, a knee replacement, and a revision hip replacement, and have seen how the bone glue is placed, and how such prosthetic joint implants are placed inside the human body.

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A pioneer and inspiration

Dr. Debakey passed away in the early hours of the morning. He was such an extraordinary man who has pioneered so many complex surgeries and has contributed so much not only to the medical world but also to the lives of his patients, personally saving many and inventing innovative methods to saving more in the future.

As the week progressed, I learned so much about the amazing man and how much he had changed to face of medicine. We DeBakey students did not have a chance to meet him, as was usually the custom. I would have liked to hear what he had to say and ask him a few questions. Instead I plan on attending his memorial service at Methodist later this week as a sign of respect.

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Amazing week

As I think back on this week, I’m quite amazed by the variety of cardio thoracic procedures I have seen and scrubbed in on in the span of only five days: coronary artery bypasses, thoracotomies, AV grafts, stent removals from the bronchi, an aortic valve replacement.

V-100_0929-sm.jpg The neatest thing I’ve seen yet: I was allowed to feel the old valve as it was taken out it was calcified with deposits. The new valve was really something, it was the mechanical valve, it was quite innovative. Dr. Sweeney, an associate of my mentor Dr. Howell (in photo), even demonstrated how the new valve opened and closed.

I even checked out an abdominal surgery, a hernia!

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Gone too young

Earlier this week, I watched as a young man no older than 40 was put on a bi-VAD today (a biventricular assist device). This is an external pump system. It was supposed to be a rare case, but as I watched it I could not help but feel a sense of pity.

He was young and had his entire life ahead him. He not only needed an external pump but also had other organ system failure. His heart deterioration was probably caused by viral cardiac myopathy.

I am amazed at how much life can change in such a short time, and it really makes me appreciate something I often don’t even think about, my health.

Yesterday, this same patient passed away, and as I helped the resident remove the external devices, I still could not believe that such a young man could suddenly pass away. It just doesn’t seem right.

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Lessons on the human heart

What an amazing end to an amazing week!

Wednesday, I scrubbed in for the first time with my mentor, a carotid endartrectomy. During this procedure, a surgeon cleans the plaque that builds up in the carotid arteries, thus preventing the occurrence of a stroke. Plaque tends to build up right as this artery branches to the face and the brain. The facial vein crosses the carotid artery right at this point and is clipped to the side, where it will not interfere during the procedure. After the ends of the artery have been clamped shut and a blood thinner is given, the artery is opened, the yellowish plaque is removed, a blood clotting factor is added, and the patient is stitched back up. I quickly memorized the basics, as I scrubbed in for another such surgery on Thursday.

Scrubbing in gives a better view of the entire procedure, and forces one to pay attention to the process. The surgeon will often explain the procedure in detail as he performs the surgery, further clarifying questions. Lastly, it’s hands on! The surgeon makes the student an important member of the team.

Today though, I scrubbed in with my mentor on a coronary bypass surgery! Though I had to remain standing for about four hours, and had to maintain sterility, the experience was amazing! I had to opportunity to hold the heart – the human heart – during the stitching process! In addition, I received a quick anatomy lesson on a beating heart! What an experience!

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A new baby boy

No surgeries were scheduled with my mentor today. There was a coronary bypass that was supposed to take place yesterday, yet it was cancelled, as the patient was not ready, so the case was moved to Monday.

Thus, I had the day to myself. My Methodist badge gave me access to any operating room in the hospital, as long as I checked with the surgeon to make sure my presence was all right. Thus, I went around trying to find an interesting case.

I had already seen a thorascopy/ right lung lobectomy yesterday, a case that took a little over four ours, and produced a large mass. I had held a human rib in gloved hands. In addition, I had seen the removal of an abnormal thyroid gland lobe, which apparently is several sizes larger than a normal lobe.

So today, I discovered a C-section going on in one of the operating rooms. I watched as a beautiful baby boy was born. The surgeons were kind as to explain to me the process, which was surprisingly quick, and it seemed the stitching took more time than the actual delivery!

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My first surgery

After about a day and a half of more intense paperwork we are ready to begin the daily hospital routine. Before that a scrubbing orientation. Why?

Well, this program is unique in that unlike in most other programs, we college students will eventually be able to scrub in and participate in the surgical cases. So we don’t actually perform surgery, but we participate almost as much as medical students on rotation would do. We help by holding retractors and other surgical instruments on the patient, help with the sewing and stitching processes, go on rounds with our assigned mentors, and the like. This procedure seemed oddly complicated when first explained; yet now that I think about it, much of this procedure makes sense.

After badging at St. Luke’s and Methodist. I observed my first surgery today, an aneurism removal from the leg at St. Luke’s!

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My assignment: Methodist Hospital

Today begins my summer as a DeBakey Summer Student.

What is this program? Well it’s offered through Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. It allows college students to get a “hands-on” experience in surgery, something that usually doesn’t happen until the third year of medical school. So, coming across this program description online as I was surfing through possible summer activities, you can guess how fascinated I was. Submitting my application, I avidly waited until I heard from the coordinator in April. The answer? Yes! I had been accepted!

And now I am here on my first day. I have just met the other Summer Students, about 27 of us, ranging from sophomores-to-be to seniors-to-be. While the majority of us are from Texas, there are a few students from out-of-state, and of course many different colleges.

Each of us is assigned to different surgeon mentors in the Medical Center area: Ben Taub, St. Luke’s, Methodist, Texas Children’s, and the VA. Me? I’ve been assigned to Methodist Hospital to a cardiothoracic surgeon. After an in-depth information session about the program, we part ways making arrangements to meet the coordinators of our respective hospitals, as well as our mentors.

I can’t wait to see what I’ll discover this summer!!

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