Gulliver Prep senior Luis Carlos Balaguer spent the summer exploring the world of medicine. He traveled to Nepal where he went to a city with five hospitals. One was a hospital for those with cancer, another dealt with AIDS patients, one was for vision service, a medical school and a general hospital.
“I did different things in each one,” he says. “In most cases, I would just observe.”
However, at the cancer hospital Balaguer says he was allowed to actually participate in surgeries.
“In a minor operating theater, I helped remove tumors from two people,” he says. “I was in charge of cauterizing wounds.”
Balaguer says the doctor in charge trusted him.
“Out of everyone in the group, I was the most outgoing,” he says.
Before he was allowed to do anything, the doctor tested him on his sewing prowess, which he passed easily since he taught himself to sew at age 15.
The fact that he didn’t pass out or get queasy while observing a surgery apparently gave the doctor confidence that Balaguer could deal with participating in the operating room.
“I got to sew up the patient after the doctor removed the tumor,” he says.
The trip to Nepal was planned by a group called Projects Aboard. Balaguer says approximately 40 students from around the world participated. “I was one of only two Americans participating,” Balaguer says.
“I was there for around 20 days. You can choose what you want to do and they give you a list of countries you can go to. I chose Nepal, and surgery and orthopedics there.”
The 20-day schedule was grueling.
“We would wake up around 7 a.m., have breakfast and spend the whole day at the hospital,” he says. “It wasn’t scripted. You had to find your own doctor, make sure he speaks English and stand up for yourself. I still talk to him on Facebook.”
After returning from Nepal, Balaguer traveled to Johns Hopkins to observe in the cardiac unit. He says it was a vastly different experience because he could not be involved in surgeries and the level of hygiene was dramatically different – it was far better at Johns Hopkins.
“I observed two major surgeries, including a coronary artery bypass graft,” he says.
“They had the patient in a really cold room.”
Balaguer was allowed to scrub in – which was a much more involved procedure than in Nepal.
“You get these scrubs from a completely sterile vending machine,” he says. “They put a completely sterile gown on you. It’s a really long process; it’s sterilization.”
Balaguer says he was allowed to sit beside the doctor during the surgery and that it was an intensely interesting experience. In all, he was at Johns Hopkins shadowing the doctor for a little more than two weeks.
Even though school has started, Balaguer is not giving up on observing doctors at work. He has had talks with a local doctor and he hopes to do as much as possible to further his interest in the medical field.
At Gulliver Prep, Balaguer is in the engineering program and he is working on his own project, an invention that he began developing a few months ago.
At one time, Balaguer says he was obsessed with becoming a physicist and learned all he could about that profession. Now, though, he is certain that he wants to be a doctor.
“I don’t think I want to do anything else in life. I think its fun and I want to be a wellrounded individual,” he says.
By Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld