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11
2016

Face time: The Class of 99’s Eduardo Rodriguez returns to campus to discuss his pioneering transplant surgery

In 2005, surgeons in France completed the world’s first partial face transplant on a woman who lost her lips, cheeks, chin and most of her nose after she was mauled by her dog.

Class of 99’s Eduardo D. Rodriguez, MD, DDS

In August 2015, the Class of 99’s Eduardo D. Rodriguez, M.D., D.D.S., the Helen L. Kimmel Professor of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery and chair of the Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone, led a team of more than 100 physicians, nurses, technical and support staff to complete the most extensive face transplant to date, and the first in New York State. PHOTO CREDIT: NYU Langone

Eleven years and many lessons later, face transplantation has moved from possibility to reality, with surgeons refining techniques and transforming the lives of patients once considered beyond hope.

Leading the way is Eduardo D. Rodriguez, M’99, considered one of the world’s leading surgeons in the field.

He returned to VCU’s MCV Campus this summer as the speaker of the annual S. Dawson Theogaraj Lecture. Rodriguez is the Helen L. Kimmel Professor of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery and chair of the Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery at New York University’s School of Medicine.

In August 2015, Rodriguez led a team at the NYU Langone Medical Center that completed the most extensive face transplant ever.

Patrick Hardison, a 41-year old fireman from Mississippi who had received horrific facial injuries received the face of cyclist David Rodebaugh. The operation received extensive media coverage and cemented Rodriguez’s reputation as a pioneer in the field.

He credits his time in VCU’s School of Medicine for a solid foundation in medicine. Rodriguez earned a D.D.S. degree from New York University in 1992, then completed his residency in oral and maxillofacial surgery at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

“There are oral surgery programs that have affiliations with a medical degree, and I had colleagues who recommended that this was something I should do. I applied to all the medical schools in the country that had a relationship with an oral surgery program.” He ended up at VCU, condensing his medical degree into two years. After that, he trained in the plastic surgery program at Johns Hopkins Hospital/University of Maryland Medical Center and completed a fellowship in Taiwan.

“I thought VCU was the best education I ever received,” he said in a telephone interview from New York. “Those were the most enriching educational years of my life. I became a very good student. Living in Richmond, a smaller town, allowed me to focus on education and gave me a very strong foundation to be successful.”

Class of 99’s Eduardo D. Rodriguez, MD, DDS

Eduardo D. Rodriguez, pictured with his face transplant patient Patrick Hardison at NYU Langone on Nov. 12, 2015. PHOTO CREDIT: NYU Langone

Rodriguez first became interested in the possibility of face transplants after hearing a lecture at Johns Hopkins about face transplants in rats. “My mentor at Johns Hopkins, the chief of plastic surgery, told me this is what I should be doing. I had no idea what that really meant, but I was fascinated by it.”

In March, 2012, Rodriguez led a team in what was one of the most extensive facial transplants ever, from hairline to the neck of a Virginia man who had suffered a gunshot wound. The 36-hour operation involved more than 100 health care providers along with meticulous planning and execution.

Rodriguez notes that such transplants include health and mental risks that must be weighed against the benefits. Recipients deal with the psychological battles of living with someone else’s face, as well as life-long reliance and side-effects of immunosuppressant medicines. As with other transplants, the body can reject a new face.

In such a developing field, he notes, there’s not yet a blueprint for success.

“Physicians and patients are on this journey together,” he says. “Once you’re successful and you see the patient doing well and you reflect on what we’ve achieved, and reflect on change in this individual’s life, you can’t help but be amazed by the complexity of the process.”

The Department of Defense and several research institutions, including NYU, have dedicated funding and resources to refining the procedure.

Rodriguez knows that the next decade will include improvements in transplantation and perhaps even some breakthroughs that seemed unimaginable in recent years.

“First, we have to keep working on trying to reduce the toxic effects of the [anti-rejection] medicines,” he says. He believes biomedical engineers will one day be able to create tissues specifically for patients needing transplants.

“It’s not just how many more transplants I can do, it’s how can we continue to improve the quality of face reconstruction and bring in different elements of science to provide these types of procedures safely, as well as improving the quality of these patients’ lives and shape a better future for these individuals.”

By Lisa Crutchfield

11
2016

Patient education wins big at first VCU HealthHacks event

M4 Sina Mostaghimi and Honors College biomedical engineering student Simone Gregor

Fourth-year medical student Sina Mostaghimi teamed up with Honors College biomedical engineering student Simone Gregor to create VCU’s first medical hackathon. It gave students 24 hours to work in interdisciplinary teams to find solutions to unmet medical needs.

As a biomedical engineering undergraduate at Georgia Tech, Sina Mostaghimi thrived on solving problems.

Today, the fourth-year VCU School of Medicine student from McLean, Virginia, is still solving problems in hopes of helping others thrive.

“My favorite thing at Georgia Tech was senior design,” he says. But, “During my senior design project, it took weeks for me to get feedback from the physicians I was working with.”

There had to be a better way, Mostaghimi thought.

At a dinner party last year, he met senior biomedical engineering student and Honors College member Simone Gregor and shared his idea.

“When Simone told me about hackathons, we decided a venue like that would be perfect for students from various disciplines to come together to help solve unmet medical needs,” he says. “I wanted to create a student environment to foster opportunities for innovation, to provide time for project development and to offer immediate feedback.

For the uninitiated, a “hackathon” is a marathon-like experience bringing computer programmers together to solve problems by creating software projects. In VCU’s case, Mostaghimi and Gregor envisioned an event to include not only computer science and biomedical engineering students from the VCU School of Engineering, but also pre-med and medical students.

HealthHacks 2016

HealthHacks drew more than 140 students who tackled problems pertaining to product design, hospital throughput and patient experience.

“It’s the weirdest team concept, but you get diverse ideas this way,” he says.

Mostaghimi and Gregor assembled a team of volunteers, attracted sponsors and created VCU HealthHacks, which took place over the first weekend in October. More than 140 students from VCU, Canada and even a high school in Richmond collaborated on three areas of focus: product design and improvement, hospital throughput and patient experience. The School of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine provided problems for students to solve as well as sending residents and faculty members who served as team mentors.

To close the event, teams had three minutes to present their projects to 10 judges who decided first, second and third place winners.

“It was quite an afternoon. We all sat in the front row of a lecture hall and listened to 30 teams describe their work,” said Nathan J. Lewis, M.D., clerkship director and assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine. “It was tough. There were so many great groups and ideas.”

HealthHacks’ winning team Anish Desai and Vivek Pandrangi

HealthHacks’ winning team Anish Desai and Vivek Pandrangi used two-dimensional scans to create three-dimensional images to help patients get a better grasp on their own anatomy. This image shows the heart and an abdominal aortic aneurysm in red, located between the kidneys, shown in yellow. Click the image to go to a page where you can view the image in 3D.

The winning team used two-dimensional scans to create three-dimensional images for use in a virtual reality headset to help patients get a better grasp on their own anatomy.

“As medical students, we learn from two-dimensional CT scans all the time,” says team member Anish Desai, a second-year medical student from Richmond, Virginia. “It’s incredibly confusing, difficult and non-intuitive.”

Desai and classmate Vivek Pandrangi, from Los Angeles, are both interested in virtual reality and its application to the patient experience.

“We’d been talking about our shared interest in surgery and finding a better way to educate patients during pre-op,” Pandrangi says.

Via the HealthHacks experience, the team was paired with mentor Daniel Newton, M’12, a fifth-year surgery resident who was impressed with the students’ abilities to take a totally rough idea and turn it into a solution.

“The ability to show a patient his or her anatomy in an understandable way was solved by their technology,” Newton says. “It’s definitely a big step. Anytime patients have a full understanding of their disease or problem and the way it’s going to be fixed, it helps take the fear out of the unknown.”

Judge Nathan Lewis, who is also Mostaghimi’s faculty advisor, sees a future in the winning team’s work. He also hopes there’s a future for VCU HealthHacks.

“If you can take the complex language of medicine and translate it into something tangible, it breaks down a lot of barriers,” he says. “I’m not sure who’s going to take over the HealthHacks reins, but the event illustrates the amount of collaboration between the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Emergency Medicine at VCU Health. We’d all love to continue.”

A student team of volunteers made VCU’s first HealthHacks a reality:

  • Sina Mostaghimi
  • Simone Gregor
  • Mashya Abbassi
  • Michael Pasyk
  • Brandon Kates
  • Stephen Holtz

By Nan Johnson

15
2016

Class of 74’s Tom Kerkering honored by the Medical Society of Virginia

The Medical Society of Virginia Foundation recently recognized Thomas M. Kerkering, M.D., FACP, FIDSA, with a Salute to Service Award, which is given out to Virginia physicians and medical students for their selfless services to others, impact to the health of the population served and commitment to health care excellence. Kerkering, a Carilion Clinic physician in Roanoke, was honored for his service to the international community in an awards ceremony that took place at the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center in Roanoke, Virginia, on Oct. 15.

Thomas M. Kerkering, M'74The Class of 1974’s Thomas M. Kerkering, M.D., FACP, FIDSA

Thomas Kerkering, M.D., FACP, FIDSA, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Carilion Clinic

Kerkering’s award acknowledges his long-term service and commitment to caring for patients in the international community. He has had a career spanning more than 37 years where he has been able to exemplify his leadership and his dedication to the international community. While he has been with the Infectious Diseases Division at Carilion Clinic, his leadership and organizational skills were crucial during the outbreak of fungal meningitis in Southwest Virginia as well as during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. During the outbreak, the World Health Organization reached out to Kerkering for his help and he traveled to Sierra Leone to educate and train personnel on how to treat infected patients, sharing his knowledge on proper infection control measures to contain Ebola.

“The span and scope of Dr. Kerkering’s international activities are truly amazing,” said Paul Skolnik, M.D., who nominated him for this award. “Dr. Kerkering has taken the lessons learned internationally to inform better care for the residents of Virginia and other places in the United States, and also taught trainees who will follow in his footsteps to carry on the best that America has to offer in the international arena; in this manner, he has added to the world’s health care in remarkable ways.”

Since 1979, Kerkering has been traveling around the world to continue his global health work, helping patients in Cambodia, Angola, Ethiopia, the Middle East, Russia, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and many other countries.

Kerkering is a professor of medicine at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, adjunct professor at Virginia Tech University Public Health Program, section chief at the Carilion Clinic of Infectious Diseases and medical director at the Carilion Clinic Infection Control. He has a master’s degree in public health and is regularly sought out internationally for his instruction on infectious diseases issues important for public health.

Hear Kerkering describe what he’s seen over his 37 year career.

Announcement courtesy of the MSV Foundation, the philanthropic organization affiliated with the Medical Society of Virginia. MSVF develops sustainable programs and initiatives that equip the physician community to improve the health of Virginians. Building upon physicians’ deep, personal commitment to patient care, MSVF initiatives offer them the opportunity to lead and participate in programs that have direct impact on health care quality and access in Virginia.