Week 4:
At the Heart of It

Dimensions Fellow in Orthopedic Research

Children's Hospital Colorado | Aurora, Colorado

July 7, 2019

My parents, little brothers, and grandma at the Cheyenne Mountain zoo. My brother Nathan will be attending Cornell this fall to play football!

At the heart of my life is my family, and I was blessed to be home to spend time with mine this past weekend. After a relaxing and fun weekend at home, I was back at work in the hospital Monday through Wednesday. I then drove back to Colorado Springs again for the holiday weekend.

At the heart of my many reasons for wanting to be a physician, is my grandpa. My grandfather was my biggest role model, the smartest and wisest man I have ever met, and my best friend. We used to sit on his big rocking chair spinning an old globe and talking about all the places he had traveled while making plans for my own adventures. He taught me about all the native animals and plants in Colorado, showed me how to fish, and inspired my love of nature.  He taught me so much about life and love, but he also taught me about loss. My grandpa passed away the summer before my junior year of high school from esophageal cancer and I was devastated knowing he would never see me play college volleyball or attend my wedding. He could always fix anything, but in my sadness, I didn’t think there was any way that the pain I felt after losing him could be fixed. I remember, however, his love of life and how he would always say it was “just another day in paradise.” He always believed in me and told me I could be anything I wanted if I was passionate about it.  I remembered the kindness and care each of his doctors showed him and my family in our darkest time, and after spending many difficult days in the hospital that summer, I knew that I wanted to be a doctor. So whenever the journey gets difficult, I think about my grandpa.

I keep this photo of my grandpa and this sticky note with me to remind me in difficult times why I started this journey

At the heart of medicine is a love of science and humanity. It is about experiencing life and death, joy and sorrow, beauty and tragedy and aiding people through challenges and setbacks. As I have gone through my academic journey at Cornell, I have become more aware of other aspects of medicine and I have learned how the field is constantly changing. There are a variety of subjects and factors that merge to translate into patient care. In medical sociology with Tori Barnes-Bruce, I learned more about economic discrepancies and difficulties many communities face in their access to healthcare. In physics with Mark Kendall, I learned how to measure the total force exerted on a ventricle, when given area and maximum pressure. In anatomy and physiology with Justice Hallam, I discovered the beautiful structures that make up the heart and how blood travels a total of 19,000 km as it circulates throughout our body each day.

We got to dissect cow hearts this past semester in Anatomy. Here we were looking at the different chambers and structures.

Also at the heart of medicine is a love of learning. I have loved this internship because I learn something new everyday. Outside of my chart reviews and journal club this week, I had the privilege of shadowing Dr. David Campbell, a cardio-thoracic surgeon at Children’s Hospital. He was on the list of the Top 100 Health Professionals in the World in 2006, 2007, and 2008 and on the list of Best Doctors in America from 2006-2010.  He is also the director of the Congenital Cardiac Surgery Residency Program and the Pediatric Heart Transplant Program. I was nervous to meet him for rounds on Wednesday morning, but he was friendly and an incredible teacher. He asked me about my interests and also shared more about his own journey. After going on rounds with the whole cardiology team in the morning, one of the nurses, Esther, took me to the OR changing room to get some scrubs. I got to watch Dr. Campbell and one of his residents perform an atrial septal defect repair surgery. An atrial septal defect (ASD) is a hole in between the two atria of the heart. This defect can decrease stroke volume on the left side of the heart (which is the side that pumps blood to the rest of the body) and can also lead to lung damage if it is left untreated.

All ready to go into heart surgery in my blue Children’s Hospital scrubs.

When they cracked the sternum and revealed the beating heart inside, I am pretty sure my own heart stopped for a moment. I was in awe. I was staring right at this beautiful organ beating inside of a living person.  I was able to watch the surgery right by the head of the patient, only three feet away from the heart, and Dr. Campbell made sure I could see the structures while explaining what he was doing, and answering all my questions. After the surgery, we got to talk for a while about his path to medicine and how much his job has changed over his career with advancements in technology like the bypass machine, and with an influx of new healthcare jobs. He also commented on how it was awesome that there are more women going into medicine. I really enjoyed hearing his perspectives and appreciated him answering all of my questions.

I did more chart review before heading back to the OR in the afternoon to watch an aortic reconstruction that was performed by one of Dr. Campbell’s residents. The resident was performing his first surgery as a cardio attending so it was an honor to be a part of it. At the heart of medicine is also a love of teaching and I was impressed by the passion that Dr. Campbell had for sharing his knowledge with his residents and with me. I don’t know if I will be a cardio-thoracic surgeon, but I have always loved learning about the heart, and I was inspired by Dr. Campbell.

I have always been interested in the heart, so I took some pictures when I was at the Natural Science museum last week of the heart exhibit.
Red, white, and blue with my brothers celebrating independence day at a Fourth of July parade.

At the heart of my experiences here at Children’s Hospital this summer, is a passion for learning and collaboration. I have enjoyed the opportunity to learn new things each day and to have incredible opportunities to discover more about research and other specialties in healthcare. I headed home after my incredible day on Wednesday for the Fourth of July weekend. My family and I went to a parade, did some yard work, and had a lot of fun outside. I am thankful to be close enough to see my family this summer as it can be hard living away from them during the school year. I am looking forward to what is in store next week!

A perfect sunset to end the work week. (As you can probably tell from all my posts, I really love sunsets)

Alicia Phillips '20

Alicia is a biochemistry and molecular biology major and a psychology minor from Colorado Springs, Colorado.