January 2019
Jennifer Crusco
Communications Assistant

AHA Surgical Research Students Visit Premier Lab at Columbia

Demarest, NJ: When you meet a high school senior, you might not think she has experience in microsurgery, unless she attends the Academy of the Holy Angels.

This month, AHA seniors Shannon Dobres of Bergenfield, Isabella Cardamone of Glen Rock, Amelia Brunda of Paramus, and Sarah Folk of Old Tappan completed the Englewood Health High School Surgical Research Program offered through the Academy’s partnership with Englewood Health. The program concluded with a visit to the Columbia Microvascular Lab, one of the world’s premier microsurgery labs. During their visit, the Angels met the lab’s director, world-renowned microsurgeon Dr. Yelena Akelina.

“The visit was arranged by Mr. Thomas Hoffmann of Englewood Health, who is the director of the Englewood Health High School Surgical Research Program,” explained AHA chemistry teacher Gretchen Hannoush, M.D., who chaperoned the students. “The four students completed a 12-week research program in which they learned suturing and used their skills to learn some simple procedures in the research lab. The purpose of the program is for students who are interested in a career in medicine to experience working in a lab, learn about simple vascular surgery techniques, and be exposed to basic lab research. As the program concludes, they also interact with physicians and physicians-in-training at a hospital vascular conference and the Columbia Microvascular Training Center. Experienced surgeons and resident physicians come from around the world for one-week training sessions in microvascular surgery.”

Sarah Folk appreciated the opportunity to learn about lab procedures she will use in her undergraduate research and in medical school.

“I wanted to receive further training in surgical and lab procedures before I ultimately do research in college and felt it would be an amazing opportunity to gain hands-on experience within a surgical lab,” the Old Tappan resident said. “I enjoyed being able to learn new technical skills and procedures such as working with aseptic surgical procedures, splenectomies, and aortic cannulation.

“Dr. Akelina was extremely welcoming and took the time to explain the history of the lab and her plans for the future of the lab. The residents who were training under her supervision were also very patient and explained their procedures and even let us work under the scope.”

As Folk prepares for the future, she has also been shadowing medical professionals and volunteering with the Old Tappan EMS.

Amelia Brunda, who also plans to become a physician, recently participated in the Perry Outreach Program for orthopedics/biomedical engineering. This Angel applied for the Englewood Health program to explore research and surgery as she decides on a specific career.

“I found the overall experience to be tough, but effective,” Brunda said, explaining that she and her peers moved through their lessons quickly with little handholding. “The most valuable lesson I took away from the program would be to really, truly, not be so afraid to ask questions; repeat them, even.”

The 12-week program was an ideal opportunity for future surgeon Shannon Dobres. In just a few months, she learned how to perform various surgeries and analyze data. Dobres said the experience surpassed her expectations and left her with a greater appreciation for the amount of patience it takes to be a doctor. At Columbia, Dobres observed a trainee who wants to specialize in hand surgeries, and another who is a general surgeon. Dobres said both individuals were welcoming and explained exactly what they were doing. In fact, her experiences with Dr. Akelina and her students, and the microsurgery simulations left Dobres with a desire to learn more about microsurgery.

Dobres has already invested three summers as a volunteer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where she also participated in a surgical program for high school students. During her junior year at AHA, she traveled to Quayaquil, Ecuador, as part of a medical mission.

Cardamone plans to pursue sports medicine and eventually become an orthopedic surgeon. For this Angel, the program helped her confirm her interest in medicine.

“My visit to the microsurgery lab was eye-opening for me because I got to observe four surgeons from all over the world learning microsurgery,” she said. Cardamone tested her skills as she assisted one of the surgeons who was learning to insert an aortic stent.

“My visit there enhanced my overall experience in the Englewood Health program because it showed me how the skills I learned in the program are applied in the field,” she concluded.

Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in Bergen County. While AHA is steeped in Catholic tradition, this prestigious high school serves young women from a broad spectrum of cultural and religious backgrounds. Over time, thousands of women have passed through AHA’s portals. Many go on to study at some of the nation’s best universities, earning high-ranking positions in medicine, government, law, education, public service, business, arts, and athletics. The Academy’s current leaders continue to further the SSND mission to provide each student with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially, and physically, by offering a first-rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity, and service to others.

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