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Michael Kuntz '11

Johnson Opportunity Grant Winner Goes Inside the OR

Hometown: Stafford, VA

Major: Biochemistry

Minor: German

Extracurricular Involvement:

  • Outing Club
  • Sigma Nu Fraternity
  • Campus Kitchens

Off-Campus Experiences:

  • Spring Term 2010: Richmond Term Program
  • Summer 2009: RE Lee Research Scholar in Chemistry at the University of St. Andrews
  • Spring Term 2009: Study Abroad (Germany)
  • Summer 2008: RE Lee Research Scholar in Chemistry

Why did you apply for the Johnson Opportunity Grant? I wanted to spend time completely immersed in the medical world. Before committing to medical school, I really needed to get a sense of what being in the medical world is like.

How does your work under the grant apply to your studies at W&L? My work with the grant shows me where my studies will ultimately take me. After working for years with the final goal of going to medical school in mind, it is nice to get a sense of where all my work will ultimately lead.

What has been the most unexpected aspect of your grant experience so far? The comfort level I have gained in and around hospitals is a pleasant surprise. The first time I ever stood in an OR I felt lost. I now feel completely at home, both in operating rooms and around hospitals themselves.

Post-Graduation Plans: Medical School

Favorite Class: Chemistry 341 (Biochemistry I) with Dr. Alty

Favorite Campus Landmark: Science Center


Michael Kuntz, a senior from Stafford, Va., applied for a Johnson Opportunity Grant to spend the summer at the Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston, where he works under the direction of Dr. Jim Livesay '69. Kuntz observes heart surgeries and conducts medical research, as well as attends teaching conferences to learn about the newest developments in medical care.

My alarm jolts me awake at 6:30 a.m. The surgical world likes to start early. Thankfully, my apartment building lies in the middle of the Texas Medical Center, and I walk just around the corner to enter Methodist Hospital. From here, I can take the basement all the way to St. Luke's; the interwoven network of hospital basements helps me escape the brutal heat. Although I expect an easy day of literature searching and rounds, I stop by the cardiovascular operating rooms to make sure no cases have been posted for Dr. Livesay. Excited to see that a case has been posted overnight, I grab a surgical mask and enter the room. The 8th year resident is scrolling through the MRI, and I go take a look. The situation is rough. The patient has a completely occluded stent in their abdominal aorta. Only peripheral blood flow supplies the legs, which are visibly starved for oxygen. One more day and the surgery might have been an amputation. The surgery requires removal of the old stent and placement of an artificial artery. Even after doing so, the left foot still has a weak pulse. After opening the iliac artery to remove several massive clots, blood pours out as the artery begins to pulsate. Everybody in the room gives a huge sigh of relief. The leg has circulation.

We make our way to the waiting room to talk with the patient's anxious family. Dr. Livesay's beeper goes off in the middle of the conversation, forcing him to cut the talk short--something I have never seen him do. I knew something was wrong. We go straight to the main ORs to find a chaotic scene. A nephrectomy has gone terribly wrong. Twenty-four units of blood have been given, and the patient is still bleeding profusely. Nurses scramble frantically to unload trays of vascular surgery equipment, which were rushed over from the cardiovascular ORs.

The unpredictability of life here makes each day interesting. I have come in expecting to watch a bypass surgery and ended up spending my entire morning watching a heart transplant--easily one of the most fascinating surgeries I have seen. With the patient heartless on the table, the surgeon used the donor heart to quickly review heart anatomy with the room's students. The coronary arteries were perfectly visible wrapping around the outside; the donor heart looked beautiful. Another day I expected to leave by 6:30 p.m. I was still in the OR at 11:00 p.m. A patient had come in with an esophageal perforation, and stomach contents were filling their chest, requiring immediate surgery.

After this summer, I have no doubts that medicine is the right place for me. Previously I felt isolated from the medical world, even though it was where I ultimately wanted to end up. Having been completely immersed for so long now, it will be a huge adjustment to go back to anything else. Whereas my coursework at W&L will help prepare me for the rigors of medical school, this real-world experience has helped prepare me for the reality of a life in medicine.