You can accomplish a lot of medically miraculous things in a little under four hours. Just ask Kayla Miles, a student in Pfeiffer University’s Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (MS-PAS) program.
During one of her most recent clinical rotations, Miles joined a pediatric cardiothoracic surgery team from Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, N.C.
The team flew in the early morning hours from Charlotte to a hospital in suburban New York City, where doctors harvested a donor heart from a four-year-old girl who, sadly, had been diagnosed brain dead following a car accident a few days earlier. The team then flew back to Charlotte, where her heart was transplanted into a 10-year-old boy at Levine Children’s.
From a medical standpoint, the whole production, flights and surgical procedures included, needed to be done in four hours or less to ensure the greatest chance of an optimal outcome. It took three hours and 50 minutes. Miles knows this as well as anyone: She acted as the “timekeeper” on whom the other team members relied to keep important steps of the process on schedule.
“It was so special to be a part of that and to see it happen,” said Miles, a former women’s lacrosse player who did her undergraduate work at UNC-Chapel Hill. “I still can’t wrap my head around it.”
Miles (pictured at left with Dr. Tom Maxey, part of the team that transplanted the heart into the boy in Charlotte) hails from Watertown, N.Y., a small city about an hour north of Syracuse. Like all students in the inaugural class of MS-PAS, she started doing nine five-week clinical rotations this past May, each in a different specialty. The one at Levine Children’s focused on surgery -- and then some, deepening her knowledge of all that’s involved in harvesting a heart from one body and then transplanting it into another. She also became acquainted with similar procedures for kidneys and a liver, which other teams removed from the girl’s body and transplanted into other patients.
Miles shared what she learned from her transplant experiences during a case presentation for her fellow PA students and their professors. Among other things, this covered her patient’s diagnosis, treatment plan, why a transplant emerged as the best option, and what a harvest-transplant procedure entails.
Dr. Tommy Earnhardt, an Associate Professor, serves as the Director of Clinical Education for the MS-PAS program. Miles’ participation on the Levine Children’s team reinforces “why we do what we do,” he said.
“As a parent, I can’t imagine the unrelenting grief of losing a child, and the strength needed to make that decision for organ donation, so that others may live,” he added. “As a healthcare provider and educator, I am humbled by the opportunities to touch the lives of others, no matter how small or grand.”
Miles has moved on to another rotation. She likes working with kids, and her time at Levine Children’s has prompted her to consider specializing in pediatric surgery. No matter which PA career path she pursues, however, she remains a zealous advocate for organ donation, and she’ll likely never forget her first encounter with transplant surgery.
“It’s a really sad story that a little girl died,” she said. “But this child was able to save someone with her heart, someone with her kidneys, and someone with her liver. That’s really special.”
Ken Keuffel, who authored this article, has served as Pfeiffer’s Assistant Director of Communications since December 2019. He welcomes story ideas from Pfeiffer’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. The form for submitting story ideas is at www.pfeiffer.edu/newsform.