The adjective resourceful doesn’t even begin to describe Xonhane Medina, an ambitious teenager who excels in the classroom and in the pool as a girls’ water polo player.
By Mark Vruno
Most 16-year-olds can’t pronounce the medical term cardiothoracic, let alone know what is means. But last summer, Fenwick student Xonhane Medina ’20 — now a junior — spent two weeks in Northern California as a cardiothoracic intern at Stanford University. (For the record, cardiothoracic surgery is the field of medicine involved in surgical treatment of organs inside the thorax — generally treatment of conditions of the heart and lungs.)
Fenwick Girls’ water polo head coach Jack Wagner has a hard enough time pronouncing Medina’s first name. He affectionately calls her “Shawn.” And anyone who knows the gruff exterior of Wagner knows that Jack doesn’t brag. Here he was, however, bragging about Xonhane – not about her MCAC All-Conference status as a sophomore last season (his Friars took second in state, by the way). He was boasting about this phenomenal internship she orchestrated.
“This kid, she set up her own funding!” he exclaimed.
Due in part to being a huge fan of the “Grey’s Anatomy” TV series when she was younger, Ms. Medina was interested in doing some type of a medical-related internship. She began her search online. Her cousin’s fiancée is a pediatric surgeon at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, CA, so Stanford was on her proverbial radar. A similar opportunity at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, also had captured her attention.
“I knew they were a reach,” Ms. Medina admits. For one thing, Xonhane knew her family could not afford the $6,500 price tag. Yet, as the late advertising guru Leo Burnett once said: “When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.” So, Xonhane reached high.
Not knowing how to begin the process, she reached out to Paul Morgan, a director at the Daniel Murphy Scholarship Fund, who became her educational sponsor. Medina is one of the Fenwick students receiving financial aid from the Murphy organization, which for 29 years has been providing high school scholarship assistance and educational support to Chicago students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
She reached higher, next asking for letters of recommendation from Fenwick teachers, including Andy Arellano (speech) and Shana Wang (English) as well as, of course, Wagner, her coach. In early March she received her letter of acceptance. Subsequently, she received $4,000 from the Oak Park-based Farther Foundation. She put that money toward the $3,000 housing fee and air fare. She had enough money left over to buy some Stanford sweaters. “That was literally the only thing I bought,” reveals Medina, who, when she’s not doing homework or working out in the basement pool at Fenwick, works weekends as a cashier downtown at Navy Pier.
The Cardiothoracic Surgical Skills and Education Center Stanford Summer Internship is designed to educate high school and pre-medical students considering careers in science, medicine and public health in basic and advanced cardiovascular anatomy and physiology as well as medical and surgical techniques that will be used in pre-medical and medical school. In 2018 the two-week experience ran from June 24 – July 7.
The typical morning (9:30 a.m. – 12 noon) was dominated by lectures, according to Medina. Anatomy of the entire body was led by a pair of third-year medical students. Then, discussions on different types of surgeries were led by senior scientist Paul A. Chang, co-founder of the Cardiothoracic Surgical Skills and Education Center. She learned that there are two main heart surgeries: 1) valve replacements and 2) coronary artery bypass grafts.
After lunch came four full hours of hands-on, laboratory time. “This was my favorite thing,” Xonhane offers, enthusiastically. Each day, she and her lab partner received a new pig heart on which to slice and clamp. They learned how to use several cardiovascular, surgical instruments, such as:
- forceps: a pair of pincers or tweezers used in surgery or in a laboratory.
- Debakey forceps: a type of atraumatic tissue forceps used in vascular procedures to avoid tissue damage during manipulation. (They are typically large, and have a distinct coarsely ribbed grip panel, as opposed to the finer ribbing on most other tissue forceps.)
- Gerald Tissue Forceps: a light- to intermediate-weight instrument with very narrow tips specifically used to handle delicate tissue. They are often used in cardiothoracic procedures. About seven inches in length with serrated tips, Geralds feature 1 x 2 teeth to securely grasp the tissue, but also have a stop peg to prevent an overly harsh grasp that may crush the tissue.
- Mayo: Straight-bladed Mayo scissorsare designed for cutting body tissues near the surface of a wound.
- aortic cross-clamps: surgical instruments used in cardiac surgery to clamp the aorta and separate the systemic circulation from the outflow of the heart.
She and her partner even had to apply sutures or stitches to aorta-dissected hearts. “We had competitions [with other interns] to see who could stitch the fastest,” Medina reports. “We also competed to see how fast we could ligate six [blood] vessels on the aorta.” The athlete in Xonhane liked the contests, but the fierce competitor is quick to point out that she came to Fenwick for academics — not for water polo.