Transplant surgery staff at the University of Mississippi Medical Center are helping two Kosciusko High School students inform the world about the importance of organ donation.
A health career display on transplant surgery presented at the Health Occupations Students of America state competition as part of a health sciences class project earned a first place award for Kosciusko residents Anna Claire Blaylock and Natalie Howell, who each just finished 10th grade. The pair will compete in HOSA's international competition June 19-25 at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
To enhance the students' presentation for the international competition, Dr. Christopher D. Anderson, professor and chief of transplant surgery at UMMC, invited the students and their health sciences instructor, Amy Price, to “shadow” UMMC surgeons during a procedure, tour the department's clinical facilities and interview members of the transplant team.
Dr. Christopher D. Anderson, professor and chief of transplant surgery who arranged the scholars’ visit to UMMC, talks with, from left, Price, Blaylock and Howell.
“These two young women were resourceful, showed passion and initiative and the project really impressed me,” Anderson said. “Having them shadow our team was really a no-brainer.
“Things like this are really just another component of our teaching mission at an academic medical center. It's an opportunity to positively influence our future students before they become our students.”
The budding health science students each said they were excited to take advantage of the opportunity to rub elbows with transplant experts for deeply personal reasons.
Blaylock, 15, has visited the Medical Center since she was 10. A mishap with an electric scooter required her to have surgery on her leg. After weeks of physical therapy, she made a complete recovery.
“We're just blessed UMMC took good care of her,” Blaylock's mother, Kelli, said. “Anna Claire was a cheerleader in eighth and ninth grade and she can do whatever she wants to do. We credit Batson Children's Hospital for that.”
In foreground, Howell, left, and Blaylock observe a gallbladder surgery.
Although her experience at Batson may have ignited an interest in health care, Blaylock credits a pair of her fellow church members - a kidney donor and the recipient of that organ - for drawing her attention to transplant surgery.
“Their story really inspired me,” she said. “It was one of the reasons we decided to do our display on transplant surgery.”
The other reason? Howell, 16, who was making her first visit to UMMC, has an aunt with kidney disease that requires dialysis.
“She's always told me about it (dialysis), but I've never really understood it,” Howell said. “Doing this project and learning more about it turned it into something I could understand.”
The students and their mentor toured clinical areas at UMMC, took note of the transplant team members' various duties, and visited with Dr. James J. Wynn, professor of transplant surgery, and others who provided insights into the profession.
“Talking to all the doctors was great - they were all so nice, hospitable and welcoming,” Howell said. “Having them describe all that they do was very eye-opening. It was a great experience.”
Dr. Truman M. Earl, associate professor of transplant surgery, describes laparoscopic gallbladder surgery to Blaylock, second from left, Howell, second from right, and Price.
What really impressed the young scholars was what transpired in the operating suite. While they watched from the back of the suite, Dr. Truman M. Earl, associate professor of transplant surgery, began a routine laparoscopic gallbladder removal. However, the procedure soon became more complex than what originally had been expected.
“We had to leave and didn't get to see the end of the surgery, but it was exciting. After this experience, you see that surgeries sometimes don't go as planned and you have to make quick decisions.”
Price, an R.N. who attended UMMC, was appreciative of the transplant team's efforts to assist her students.
“Hats off to the doctors to take their time, even though they were very busy, to recognize the importance of these kids learning,” Price said. “They would have never had the opportunity to do something like this where we live.
“It made a lasting impression on them that they'll never forget . . . Their mothers said when they came home they never quit talking all night about their experience and how much they had learned.”
Dr. James J. Wynn, professor of transplant surgery, shares transplant surgery insights with Howell, left, and Blaylock.
Dr. Dakota C. King, a house officer in general surgery, can relate. A native of Kosciusko, King took the same health sciences class when she was a Kosciusko High School student. The scholars interviewed her for their initial HOSA presentation.
King said the opportunity for students from rural areas of the state to gain exposure to Mississippi's health sciences campus is invaluable.
“The first time I set foot on campus was for my medical school interview,” she said. “Getting students involved earlier will allow them to learn of the endless possibilities of careers in health care and encourage more students to consider UMMC for furthering their education.
“They (Blaylock and Howell) were very motivated and interested in learning as much as they could about transplant surgery and organ allocation. With so many Mississippians having kidney disease, their choice of transplant as a topic for their project couldn't be more relevant. I am proud to see them succeed and represent Kosciusko on not only the state level, but on an international level as well.”
Blaylock said the visit to UMMC will strengthen their presentation on HOSA's international stage.
“It definitely has taught me a lot of things about what I want to do when I get older, and several things about the medical field,” she said. “In our presentation, we'll talk about all these experiences that we've had and how they have informed us about the need to be an organ donor. It will definitely help us increase awareness of organ donation for the general public.”
“This (project) has changed my perspective a lot,” Howell said. “I get my actual (driver's) license in six months, and I'm going to be an organ donor.”
Howell said social worker Terri Taylor's comment during the UMMC visit summed up her shadowing experience.
“She said watching transplant surgery is like watching someone die and come back to life,” Howell said. “You watch them (transplant patients) at their worst. Then you watch them after they recover and it's like watching them survive.
“That really hit me - and I was glad this (visit) was something I wanted to do.”