August 18, 2015
In June, Alexander Vanderby and Rachel Stamatis, two students from American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC) presented their research at the prestigious World Congress in Fetal Medicine in Crete, Greece, joining leading international experts and other young researchers in the field.
The posters focused on four patients who received treatment at Epsom General Hospital in Epsom, Surrey, England, where Vanderby and Stamatis are completing their clinical rotations. They combined case presentations with literature reviews and recommended new approaches to managing or diagnosing potentially fatal complications of pregnancy and childbirth.
One poster focused on a condition called congenital diaphragmatic hernia, in which a hole in a developing fetus’ diaphragm allows the abdominal organs to move into the chest, preventing the lungs from developing normally and resulting in severe respiratory distress. “Usually this is a defect is seen on an ultrasound before the baby is born so the team can be prepared,” explains Vanderby. “Our hospital delivered a baby that suffered from this condition, but it was not visible before the baby was born.” The poster described the current guidelines, discussed how hospitals can better prepare to treat newborns with the condition, explored innovative treatment techniques, and advocated for specialized training to handle emergencies.
A second poster featured a twin pregnancy with a single shared placenta, in which only one twin survived. Vanderby and Stamatis investigated whether the other twin’s death may have been preventable by looking at the literature available for placenta classification and the possibility of anatomical anomalies.
A third poster focused on preeclampsia, a life-threatening pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, often the kidneys, says Stamatis, who is applying for an Ob/Gyn residency this fall. She and Vanderby looked at the possibility of saving mothers’ and infants’ lives by detecting preeclampsia during the first trimester, instead of the third trimester, by using innovative new tests that are superior to those being used in current practice.
The fourth poster explored another serious pregnancy condition known as placenta accrete, which occurs when blood vessels and other parts of the placenta grow too deeply into the uterine wall, preventing them from smoothly detaching at birth. Women with this condition usually require a life-saving hysterectomy (removal of womb). The students’ paper discussed the challenges present even when women receive thorough ultrasounds and MRIs during pregnancy. The students also discussed the risk factors associated with Cesarean sections for developing this disorder.
Both Vanderby and Stamatis were invited to submit research to the conference by Dr. Aliaa Arafa, a consultant and lead clinician for Epsom General Hospital’s obstetrics and labor ward. “We wanted to become more involved in academic medicine and these projects were the perfect place to start,” says Vanderby.
Stamatis adds that although putting off studying to spend weeks researching and writing the papers seemed like more than she could handle at first, she was glad she said “yes” and she valued the experience to present at an international conference attended by more than 2,000 leaders in obstetrics. “You never know when someone asks you to do a little thing where that will lead you,” she says.
Stamatis worked full-time to pay her way through college, so she wasn’t able to pursue the community service and clinical experience required by U.S. medical schools. AUC, she says, gave her a second chance. Vanderby, the son of an AUC alum, came to medicine as a second career, after working for the National Park Service.
Both say they have enjoyed completing their rotations in the UK. “Working in England exposed me to the international medical community by allowing me to work alongside doctors from dozens of countries, each with a different background and training,” says Vanderby. “I have met some amazing physicians here who have been willing to mentor and teach students from AUC.” Stamatis echoes these sentiments, adding that she especially appreciates the level of hands-on experience she received, particularly in her Surgical and Ob/Gyn rotations. “We are also in a unique position to see the successes and shortcomings of socialized medicine,” she says. “I hope to use this to guide me as I become a leader and provider of U.S. health care.”