From playing doctor, to being one: Alumnus travels to U.S. from Nigeria to fulfill childhood dream

Photo by Allen S. Kramer

Photos by Allen S. Kramer

By Anthony Langley

Oluyinka Olutoye, M.D., Ph.D. (Ph.D.’96/M; H.S.’98/M), remembers wanting to be a doctor from an early age. As he recalls, the desire stemmed from an encounter he experienced as a child in his home country of Nigeria.

“I had a sick family member, and a doctor made a house call to see them,” he says. “I remember following him around our home, trying to see as much as I could. After he left, I would play doctor around the house.”

After high school, Olutoye enrolled in a six-year medical program at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria, where he graduated in 1988 as valedictorian with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery.

“I chose surgery because I liked being able to identify problems in the body and fix them,” Olutoye says. “When I was in school, I also enjoyed embryology, so pediatric surgery was a natural draw.”

Olutoye knew that if he stayed in Nigeria, he would not have access to the latest medical technology, so he moved to the U.S. but found his foreign degree a barrier to working as a surgeon in the States. Refusing to give up on his dream, he accepted a pediatric internship at Howard University Hospital. He remained focused on his goal to become a pediatric surgeon, and he says the team at Howard supported his ambition, even helping him apply for the National Resident Matching Program the following year, which landed him an interview at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Medicine.

Andrew Wechsler, M.D., head of the VCU Department of Surgery at the time, offered him a residency, but it was the opportunity to conduct his own research and work on a Ph.D. during his residency that cemented Olutoye’s decision to come to VCU.

“Dr. Wechsler really took a chance on me, especially being a foreign medical graduate,” he says. “I am always eternally grateful for that.”

He made the most of his opportunities. Under the guidance of Arnold Salzberg, M.D., then-chief of the Division of Pediatric Surgery, Olutoye completed his Ph.D. and his general surgery residency and landed a two-year fellowship position in pediatric surgery at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“When I counted back, I was the 12th resident that [Dr. Salzberg] had gotten into pediatric surgery,” Olutoye says. “Many, if not all, who studied under him have gone on to become major contributors in the field. It makes me proud to say that I am a product of his legacy and a proud graduate of the VCU surgery program.”

Now, as co-director of Texas Children’s Fetal Center at Texas Children’s Hospital and professor of surgery, pediatrics and obstetrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Olutoye has achieved his childhood dream and more.

“He’s one of those special people who comes into your life and makes a lasting impact,” says Robert Diegelmann, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the VCU Medical Center and one of Olutoye’s thesis advisers. “In the lab, his energy and enthusiasm were contagious, and it has been a pleasure to watch him develop such a stellar career.”

In October, Olutoye co-led a team of 21 doctors to remove a sacrococcygeal teratoma, a large tumor that grows on the tailbone of a fetus, and then returned the 23-week-old fetus to the mother’s womb.

“What happened in this case was the fetal heart tries to pump blood not only through the child’s body but the tumor as well, which can cause the heart to fail,” Olutoye says. “We monitored the mother throughout pregnancy, and when the growth got too large, we discussed our options and decided surgery would be the best method to save the child.”

For the surgery, the mother and fetus were given general anesthesia, and the part of the fetus’s body where the tumor is attached was taken out of the uterus. Surgeons then removed as much of the mass as possible before returning the fetus to the womb. The team continued to monitor the mother over the course of her pregnancy to ensure that no further problems occurred until she was delivered at 36 weeks.

“It’s an honor and privilege to care for and support these families, especially at such vulnerable moments,” Olutoye says. “I’m looking forward to opportunities that allow me to care for even more children and have an impact. As long as we take it one patient at a time, and help as many as we can, we can help society at large.”

Peter Buckley named dean of VCU School of Medicine and VCU Health executive VP for medical affairs

Peter Buckley, M.D.

Peter Buckley, M.D.

Virginia Commonwealth University announced today that Peter F. Buckley, M.D., has been

appointed dean of the VCU School of Medicine, effective Jan. 17. He also will serve as VCU Health System executive vice president for medical affairs, overseeing the 600 physician-faculty group practice of the academic health sciences center.

Buckley comes to VCU from Augusta University in Georgia where he is dean of the Medical College of Georgia and executive vice president for medical affairs and integration. A psychiatrist and expert in schizophrenia, Buckley also is a professor of psychiatry, pharmacology and radiology at MCG.

Read more.

Weil Institute of Emergency and Critical Care Research celebrates grand opening at VCU

Photos by Allen Jones, University Marketing.

Photos by Allen Jones, University Marketing.

On Oct. 24Virginia Commonwealth University will celebrate the grand opening of the Weil Institute of Emergency and Critical Care Research at VCU. The event will be held from noon to 1 p.m. at the Hermes A. Kontos Medical Sciences Building first floor lobby, 1217 E. Marshall St.

Max Harry Weil, M.D., Ph.D., the founder of the specialty of critical care medicine, founded the institute. It is widely regarded as the premier basic science cardiopulmonary resuscitation research laboratory in the world, with staff performing research on a broad area of emergency medicine and critical care topics. Current research focuses on improving outcomes of CPR, circulatory shock, life-threatening heart failure, acute lung failure and overwhelming infections that produce septic shock. The institute is also making significant advances in life-sustaining medical technology.

“After a yearlong search for an academic medical partner at which to relocate, the institute’s board of advisors unanimously chose VCU as their new home based on the academic medical center’s excellent clinical and resuscitation program,” said institute director Wanchun Tang, M.D.

Read more.

Medical student thrives in ‘Jeopardy!’ appearances

Siddharth Hariharan with "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek.

Siddharth Hariharan with “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek.

A week before moving to Richmond to start medical school at Virginia Commonwealth University, Siddharth Hariharan was in Los Angeles to test his knowledge in another high-stakes environment. The first-year VCU School of Medicine student competed on three episodes of “Jeopardy!” in July. The episodes aired in mid-September.

“For the first few days after it aired I felt like a celebrity on campus,” Hariharan said. “Now that everyone has seen the episodes they all greet me much more friendlily.”

Read more.

VCU researchers receive $1 million grant to test a diagnostic tool for Parkinson’s disease

The Michael J. Fox Foundation has awarded a $1 million grant to Virginia Commonwealth University’s Schools of Medicine and Engineering to test a diagnostic tool for Parkinson’s disease that was developed by university researchers.

The noninvasive eye-tracking device uses infrared light to follow a patient’s eye movement as the patient attempts to fix his or her gaze on a screen-displayed object. While normal eye movements are highly regulated and follow well-defined patterns, neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease alter eye movements.

“One aim of the grant is to validate that we can use eye tracking to diagnose Parkinson’s disease with high accuracy,” said principal investigator Mark Baron, M.D., professor of neurology at the VCU School of Medicine and interim director of the VCU Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders Center. “Another aim is to validate that we can diagnose Parkinson’s disease well before a patient displays outward symptoms.”

Read more.

VCU to host its first medical hackathon

Simone Gregor and Sina Mostaghimi.

Simone Gregor and Sina Mostaghimi.

Virginia Commonwealth University is hosting its first medical hackathon, called HealthHacks, in which students from VCU and other schools will spend 24 hours finding solutions to unmet medical needs.

During HealthHacks, which starts Saturday, Oct. 1, students will collaborate in interdisciplinary teams of up to four participants to address problems that will focus on three major categories: product design and improvement, hospital throughput, and patient experience. Problems will be pitched from patients, physicians, professors, health care clinicians, engineers and industry sponsors. Students are also encouraged to bring their own ideas to the event to work on in a supported environment.

Read more.

Trammell Cox has a vision: to help others see.

While studying at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine — and serving as president of the Class of 2018 — Cox runs a nonprofit organization that helps provide eyeglasses for patients overseas.

The organization, Seeing is Believing, began on a small scale with a few pairs of reading glasses. Six years and more than 19,000 pairs of glasses later, it’s still going strong, as Cox returned to Southeast Asia in August to continue what he started as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2008.

As he was teaching in Cambodia on that mission trip, he realized that some students weren’t participating.

“Often we’d ask people to read but they’d say they couldn’t,” said Cox. “For a while we assumed that it was that they never learned to read. But as we probed a little bit, we found out it was because they couldn’t see.”

Read more.

VCU School of Medicine student co-founds national medical student blog

Robin Kuriakose.

Robin Kuriakose.

Third-year Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine student Robin Kuriakose (B.S.’14/H&S) often writes in his journal to deal with the stress of medical school.

“I am by no means a great writer, but I have observed the therapeutic effect that writing has on me,” he said.

Last October, Kuriakose co-founded the blog WhiteCoated as a place to house his and other medical students’ inspirations, stories and thoughts. Today the site has more than 25 posts by medical students around the country with journal entry-style writings about everything from orientation week to emergency department rotations.

“The purpose of the site is to encourage self-reflection in the midst of ever-increasing medical school demands,” Kuriakose said.

Read more.

Medical students travel to Ecuador to help with emergent care

Second-year VCU medical student Elissa Trieu (right) helps suture an emergency room patient in Ecuador with an Ecuadorian hospital official.

Second-year VCU medical student Elissa Trieu (right) helps suture an emergency room patient in Ecuador with an Ecuadorian hospital official.

When dialing 911 in the United States, callers might easily assume a dispatcher can relay their needs to the appropriate responder, whether it is firefighters or the paramedics. But in Ecuador, it is not always that simple.

From June 27 to July 19 members of the VCU Health International Trauma System Development Program traveled to Cuenca, Ecuador to help enhance the country’s coordination between firefighters, ambulances, 911 call centers and hospitals. The work was part of a series of projects to determine why there is a breakdown in Ecuador’s pre-hospital communication, which starts when a person seeking emergency help contacts authorities and ends when they arrive at a hospital.

Mark Hopkins, a second-year student in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, was one of three medical students who traveled to Ecuador with School of Medicine faculty. Though public health care is free in Ecuador, high patient volume and a lack of resources and proper education dilute the quality of that care, he said.

“Since we were kids, we’ve known there is one number to call [for medical help] and we know we can trust whoever shows up on our doorstep to be trained and qualified,” Hopkins said. “We have jobs solely dedicated in the hospital to making sure the right information comes through. In Ecuador, they are trying to replicate that system. That’s where we want to help.”

Read more.

For the second time, VCU Medical Center Medical Psychiatry Unit earns prestigious nursing award

VCU and VCU Health leaders pose for a photo at an Aug. 5 ceremony to celebrate the Medical Psychiatry Unit, which received a Beacon Award from the American Association of Critical Care Nurses.

VCU and VCU Health leaders pose for a photo at an Aug. 5 ceremony to celebrate the Medical Psychiatry Unit, which received a Beacon Award from the American Association of Critical Care Nurses.

The Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center Medical Psychiatry Unit is again the only one of its kind to earn national recognition for exemplary practices in patient care. The acknowledgment comes in the form of a silver-level Beacon Recognition for Excellence Award from the American Association of Critical Care Nurses.

For nurses, a Beacon Award signals a positive and supportive work environment with greater collaboration between colleagues and leaders, higher morale and lower turnover. For patients and families, the Beacon Award showcases exceptional care through improved outcomes, and teamwork that caters specifically to patients’ greatest and gravest needs.

At an Aug. 5 ceremony to commemorate the award, VCU and VCU Health System President Michael Rao, Ph.D., told department members, “You are a model for VCU and [the standard of] VCU care.”

Read more.