Physicians Aid Association

Physicians Helping Physicians

You are here Testimonials K.O. Medical Student
My name is K.O. and I am a second year medical student at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. I was born and raised in Dallas, TX as the second daughter of two parents from West Africa. Shortly after I was born, my primary physician discovered that I had a heart condition known as a first degree AV heart block. Over the years, my heart problem got worse until at the age of 9, my physicians alerted me that my AV heart block had progressed to a complete third-degree AV block and I would need to get a pacemaker to keep my heart beating at a regular rhythm. Up until this point, my heart problem had not stopped me from doing all the things I loved.

My first surgery was scary but to tell the truth, I was excited. I liked my all my doctors and surgeons and knew we were fixing a problem, not creating one. That surgery is a distant memory to me now. I knew at this point in my life with absolute positivity that I was going to be a doctor someday and would be able to help somebody the way I has helped.

My second surgery did not come until college. I was sitting in my dorm room taking a nap when I felt my pacemaker shut off. The feeling was unusual. My heart felt like it was churning on its own, trying hard to keep up a beat. Within a few hours, I was admitted to the hospital and scheduled for surgery the following morning. That was a Friday. I was back to school on a Tuesday. At this point in my life, I had one thing on my mind. I was getting my bachelors in Computer Science as well as pursing my dreams of going to medical school. There was no time to miss class. And as long as I felt well enough to walk, I figured I should be in class learning. As you can imagine by this short story and where I am today, I was the type of person who was always moving toward my goals. This particular surgery was hard physically. I felt weak and nauseous in class and remembering not making it through an entire day the whole week after.

Flash forward to last August 2015. I had started my second year of medical school and we were starting off in Cardiology and I was excited and ready to get back to learning, especially about my own personal heart problem. One day, when we were practicing the cardiac exam, my classmates detected a murmur. This is a murmur I had heard multiple times before, but because we were in cardiac block, I went to my cardiologist to investigate. 2 appointments plus a stress test and a pulmonary angiogram later, I knew that I had specifically my murmur was due to regurgitant blood flow through my pulmonic valve being caused by one of my pacemaker leads. It had folded over and was opening up the valve during types of exercise. Although a part of me was happy to know why I was so easily tired all the time, I immediately started to worry.

This was a completely different time in my life for me. In a way, I was the busiest I had ever been in my life. In college, I had worked 4 jobs, was writing original code for independent research, taking a full load of courses, and traveling but medical school was a different beast entirely. I was stressed about money. My first year of medical school, it came apparent to me how different life would be without a paycheck. I was getting calls from debt collectors about previous surgeries and doctor’s appointments that I was constantly having to re-budget and create payment plans for. I also was worried about time. How would I keep up with my classes? What if I failed a test because of this? What if I was too tired to study? How would I recover this time around?

Luckily, I ran into one of my mentors when I was leaving the hospital one day. We talked for a long time and I started to pour out all my fears and worries. Towards the end of our conversation, she insisted that I go talk to Dr. Elliott at the Student Affairs Office. The following week, I met with Dr. Elliott. In a few short minutes, I learned about the Physician’s Aid Association and the funding that was available to Keck Students. I left that meeting feeling as if the weigh to the world was off my shoulders.

This news of this financial support was one of the most pivotal times in my life. Not only did it help me remove a large source of anxiety about having the surgery, this support was a catalyst for me to be comfortable looking for other ways of support. I started to realize that the more adult thing to do in this situation was to ask for help and embrace all types of support. I was able to schedule the surgery on a day that allowed me over a week off from school. My mother and sister were able to come to California to take care of me. And when the surgery came,I was glad about the decisions I had made. This surgery was by far hardest of them all. Because now I was being trained to understand the language my physicians spoke. I recognized my surgeons. I knew the complications. And I was scared. More scared that than 9-year old girl that had practically skipped to the OR.

They extracted the four leads I had inside of me and set me up with a whole new biventricular pacing system. Due to the excessive scar tissue, I had a lengthy surgery with a lot of slow blood loss that left me anemic. I was kept overnight in the hospital for four days and two in the ICU. But despite all the hardships and the physical pain that I felt, I was able to concentrate on getting better and not worry about how much everything was costing me. I have you all to thank for that.

I stand before you today with a new pacemaker and a completely new outlook on what it means to be vulnerable and ask for help. I can only assume that this will not be the last time that I learn this lesson in my career. I hope to go on, pass Step 1 of the USMLE licensing exam, and enjoy my third year of medical school on the wards. I see myself in a surgical specialty but the one thing I can be absolutely sure of is that I will not only become a physician that provides exceptional care but the type of physician who never misses the opportunity to make sure that my patient has all the support he/she needs in dealing with their illness. Thank you.

– K.O., Medical Student