AHA Seniors Visit Columbia University’s Renowned Surgical Lab

Standing (L-R): Katelyn Spinks, Melanie DeRosa, Stephanie Fasolas, Gretchen Hannoush, and Maya Sharma. Seated (L-R): Dr. Yelena Akelina, three visiting surgeons, and Thomas Hoffmann.

A few weeks before their graduation from the Academy of the Holy Angels, four seniors became the first AHA students to visit the micro lab at Columbia University. This venue is one of the world’s premier microsurgery training labs.

AHA chemistry teacher Gretchen Hannoush, M.D., arranged this opportunity for Melanie DeRosa, Stephanie Fasolas, Maya Sharma, and Katelyn Spinks.

Dr. Hannoush established the connection with the micro lab’s director, Dr. Yelena Akelina, through Thomas Hoffmannn, who teaches these four students as part of Englewood Health’s High School Surgical Science Research Course.
“Dr. Akelina, a world-renowned microsurgeon who trains nearly 200 medical professionals each year, was excited to hear what Hoffmannn was teaching high school students and invited his students to her lab,” Hannoush explained. “We were privileged to be the first of Mr. Hoffmannn's students to be able to visit Dr. Akelina's lab.”
Akelina greeted the group from AHA and introduced them to visiting surgeons from Honduras who were completing a training program. “The surgeons took time from their work to demonstrate microsurgical techniques for the AHA students, explaining procedures as they used different methods to repair blood vessels and nerves as small as 0.2 mm in diameter,” Hannoush said.
Dr. Hannoush pointed out that the visit to Columbia allowed Holy Angels students to observe the applications of what they learn in the 12-week Englewood Health surgery program for high school students. Hoffmannn’s students learn suturing and micro-suturing techniques, tissue collection, surgical techniques, isolation of the renal vessel, and use of specialized laboratory equipment. They also attend a vascular conference at Englewood Health.

The students concurred that the micro lab visit was exciting and informative. “The trainees were engaged in different procedures when we entered the lab, but were so accommodating to us,” Sharma said. “They allowed us to sit with them and view the procedure through the microscopes while they explained the process. I was able to speak with them about their microsurgery training and their other medical experiences. One of the trainees even allowed me to get involved and try to maneuver with the forceps, while she showed the procedure. It was very interesting to see and understand the real-world application in medicine of the procedures we were taught throughout the (Englewood Health) course. It was a very worthwhile experience, and I am so thankful that we were given this opportunity!”

In a joint statement, Sharma, Spinks, DeRosa, and Fasolas wrote, “It was a really rewarding experience that allowed us to witness firsthand skills in performing different types of microsurgery while discussing them with the (visiting surgeons). We were able to see how such basic skills in surgery can be extended to any field of medicine.”

Dr. Hannoush and Hoffmannn plan to offer this enrichment experience to future AHA students who complete the Englewood Health High School Surgical Science Research Course.

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