Neurosurgical Spine Specialist Thriving in Syracuse

For Upstate Medical University neurosurgical spine specialist Michael Galgano, MD ’10, with each operation he performs comes the opportunity to drastically improve the course of a person’s life.

There was the 40-year-old woman whose adolescent scoliosis had gone untreated. Debilitating back pain prevented her from completing workdays or from playing with her young daughter. A corrective procedure returned her to normal activity level.

Then there was the 17-year-old lacrosse player who suddenly had difficulty walking. It was discovered he had an osteoblastoma that was crushing his spinal cord, slowly paralyzing him. Dr. Galgano and his team removed the tumor and reconstructed his spinal column, allowing him to return to lacrosse a few months later after a remarkable recovery.

It’s that kind of impact that the 2010 St. George’s University graduate set out to make when he entered medical school, and what excites him the most about his role at Upstate.

“I treat a population of patients with a wide array of complex spinal disorders, ranging from tumors of the spinal cord and vertebral column, to scoliosis and other deformities,” Dr. Galgano said. “I am drawn toward these types of surgeries that require a significant amount of pre-surgical planning and strategizing. Each complex case I do has its own unique spin, and requires some degree of creativity to achieve an ideal outcome. Improving the quality of life in my patients is ultimately what drives me. It is difficult to get bored with this job.”

At Upstate, located in Syracuse, NY, his responsibilities are many—assistant professor of neurosurgery, director of spinal oncology and reconstructive spinal deformity surgery, as well as the medical school neurosurgery clerkship program. Although Dr. Galgano sub-specializes in spine surgery, he also treats neuro-trauma, in addition to brain tumors.

 

“Each complex case I do has its own unique spin, and requires some degree of creativity to achieve an ideal outcome. Improving the quality of life in my patients is ultimately what drives me.”

 

Four days a week, Dr. Galgano rounds on his inpatients before logging six- to 10-hour sessions in the operating room on surgical procedures. As a professor, he holds weekly didactic learning sessions for which he lectures to the university’s neurosurgery residents and medical students.

“When I run into the occasional SGU student completing a sub-I at our hospital and they find out I am also an alum, their eyes light up,” he said. “I tell them all to be proactive, and to outwork everybody they can on their rotations. At the end of the day, it boils down to being nothing short of determined to match into the field you are most passionate about, whether that is family medicine or neurosurgery.”

Dr. Galgano performs his craft and extensive research at the very location where his neurosurgery career began as a resident in 2010, weeks after graduating from SGU. He spent seven years in residency at Upstate, and even earned the Outstanding Neurosurgery Resident of the Year Award. In 2017, he went on to complete a complex and oncological spine surgery fellowship at Brown University in Providence, RI.

Dr. Galgano had always had his mind set on entering neurology, but the surgery element came into focus as a medical student when he rotated with general surgeons at Overlook Hospital in New Jersey—one of more than 70 clinical sites available to SGU students. So, for his career, he combined his two passions.

“The rotation centers I went to were fabulous,” he said. “Rotating at a number of different hospitals exposes you to a wide variety of pathology. Instead being at a single institution, you see a diverse case load and patient population, and learn from physicians with different backgrounds. You grow comfortable working with a new set of instructors every few weeks. It keeps you on your A-game.”

Dr. Galgano added: “During neurosurgical training, the more surgeons you get to experience operating with, the better surgeon you become. You take a bit of knowledge from each mentor, and incorporate concepts and techniques you learned from them into your style. That’s kind of the way I look at SGU. We are taught medicine from doctors all around the world, increasing the diversity of our experience. SGU really is an all-star medical school. There is no doubt that our students graduate ready to hit the real world. SGU offers not only a medical education, but a unique and profound life experience. The end product of having received a medical education at SGU is something to be proud of.”

– Brett Mauser

SGU Welcomes Two Canadian Institutions to Clinical Network

Through new agreements with two Canadian facilities, St. George’s University medical students can now receive highly specialized clinical training north of the US border.

In August, SGU welcomed Ottawa Cardiovascular Centre and Booth Neurology Clinic to its clinical network of more than 70 training locations, further expanding the opportunities available to fourth-year students to broaden their skills and knowledge in preparation for residency.

“We’ve been thrilled by the response from our students,” said Sandra Banner, St. George’s University’s director of admissions for Canada. “With these training opportunities, they obtain a close-up sense of the Canadian healthcare system, and are able to experience some of the differences between the US and Canada, inevitably improving their chances of success on their exams and in pursuit of residency.”

 

“With these training opportunities, students obtain a close-up sense of the Canadian healthcare system, and are able to experience some of the differences between the US and Canada, inevitably improving their chances of success on their exams and in pursuit of residency.”

 

Applications for training positions at each site are now being taken for the charter class intake in November 2019. Ms. Banner said that SGU students are able to pair up the elective opportunities, giving them two full months in Canada’s capital city. At each clinical site, they will work directly with physicians who have dual appointments with University of Ottawa Medical School.

“Rotating in clinical training facilities throughout Canada, the US, and UK gives our students a worldly view of medicine that they can’t get just anywhere,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, president of St. George’s University. “We firmly believe that taking advantage of these unique opportunities not only benefit them as they ramp up toward residency but well into their medical careers.”

Canadians have flourished at SGU and beyond, with 94 percent of eligible students and graduates applying for residency in North America successfully obtaining one in 2019. Eighteen Canadians who applied through the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) secured residencies in competitive fields ranging from anesthesiology and emergency medicine to pathology and psychiatry.

– Brett Mauser

Cardiologist’s Heart Is With Grenada

St. George’s University graduate Thomas Vazzana, MD ’85, feels compelled to give back to the place where he began his three-decade-long career in medicine. Now a practicing interventional cardiologist in New York, Dr. Vazzana provides essential cardiology services to the people of Grenada free of charge.

The impact of his visits is undeniable, but there is still work to be done, which is why he returns two to three times a year to the island that gave him his start.

“Education is key, especially when explaining how important it is for patients to continue taking their medication—but I think we’re making progress,” said Dr. Vazzana, associate director of the cardiology fellowship program at Staten Island University Hospital. “I see several of the same patients and follow up with them when I’m here, and they’re doing fine.”

His visits are arranged through the SGU-Physician Humanitarian Network (SGU-PHuN), a program that enables St. George’s University alumni and friends to aid the Ministry of Health and Government of Grenada in improving healthcare in the country.

Since its official launch in 2008, the adult cardiology program continues to provide much-needed heart care services for at least 10 months of the year. With each visit seeing approximately 15-20 patients per day and about 80 each week, the program offers consultations, cardiac testing, pacemaker implantations, angioplasties, echocardiograms, and referrals for those needing advanced care. It has provided millions of dollars in service to the Grenadian community, resulting in countless lives saved.

“Dr. Vazzana is a very special member of our cardiology team,” said Brendon La Grenade, vice provost for institutional advancement. “He makes up one of only a handful of interventional cardiologists providing vital cardiovascular services to our population. From the program’s inception under coordinator Johansen Sylvester, MD ’00, to now in its 11th year, we at SGU are thankful to Dr. Vazzana and the vast network of alumni and friends who allow SGU and the Government of Grenada to bridge the cap in healthcare disparity.”

For several years, Dr. Vazzana has been making the trip to Grenada with his wife, Kathleen, a hospital administrator who serves as his clinical assistant while in Grenada. Now, also eager to return is their daughter Virginia Vazzana, MD ’17, who attended SGU after she and her older sister participated in the Med-Vet Summer Leadership Academy a few years earlier. While there, Dr. V. Vazzana also married fellow SGU alum Hamfreth Shaul Rahming, MD ’17. Both are currently completing their residencies in pediatric endocrinology and internal medicine respectively. According to the elder Vazzana, he made sure to pass along his passion for paying it forward.

“I always say, especially to my students, ‘when you get to your final destination, don’t forget where you came from,’” Dr. Vazzana added. “Because if it wasn’t for here, you wouldn’t have gotten to there.”

 

About Dr. Vazzana

Dr. Thomas Vazzana graduated with a bachelor’s degree from New York University in 1981 before earning his medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine in 1985. He then completed an internship and residency at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Paterson, NJ, before serving as a cardiology fellow at the former St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center, West Brighton (now Richmond University Medical Center). He became an attending physician at St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center in Manhattan and held the same position at the former Doctors’ Hospital in Concord and again in West Brighton until July 1991, when he opened his own practice.

Two years later, Dr. Vazzana teamed up with fellow cardiologist, Dr. Marc Bogin and was managing partner at Vazzana and Bogin Cardiology Associates in Staten Island until 2011. Dr. Vazzana also served as co-director of the cardiology division for the Staten Island Physician Practice until 2012 and is currently an associate professor at Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra University.

– Ray-Donna Peters

Alumni Association Announces “Art of Medicine” Continuing Ed Conference

 

The St. George’s University School of Medicine Alumni Association (SOMAA) invite SGU graduates and all medical professionals to its annual “Art of Medicine” continuing medical education (CME) conference in Grenada from March 9-12, 2020.

According to SOMAA President Bruce Bonanno, MD ’83, SOMAA president, its goal is to further harvest physicians’ passion for medicine, on the island that, for many, is where it all began.

“This conference welcomes doctors to reconnect with their profession, to build upon the foundation they’ve already created, and for SGU graduates, to get back to their roots,” said Dr. Bonanno, an emergency medicine physician based in New Jersey.

The four-day event features presentations from experts on a wide variety of fields, with several discussions led by SGU alumni. They include:

  •  “Hematologic Disease in Older People” – Shannon O’Connor, MD ’05
  • “Headache: It’s All In Your Head” – Paul Mathew, MD ’05
  • “Hypoxia – When Seconds Matter” – Pierre Moeser, MD ’83
  • “Maintenance of Certification: Reform or Reboot?” – Paul Mathew, MD ’05
  • “Monoclonal Antibody Use in Rheumatic Diseases” – Pierre Moeser, MD ’83
  • “Decoding the Alphabet Soup of Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD)” – Nirav Shah, MD ’02
  • “All About Gout” – Suneet Grewal, MD ’08
  • “Genetic Diseases in Cancer” – Shannon O’Connor, MD ’05
  • “Hepatitis is a Cure” – George Gartin, MD
  • “Psoriatic Arthritis” – Suneet Grewal, MD ’08
  • “How to Have a Baby Without Having Sex: New Frontiers in Reproduction” – Samuel Jacobs, MD ’82
  • “Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS): Where Are We Now?” – Nirav Shah, MD ’02
  • “Nutrition in Chronic Disease” – Taraneh Soleymani, MD ’07
  • “Obesity Treatment – How Far Have We Come?” – Sunil Daniel, MD ’07
  • “Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)” – George Gartin, MD

Conference participants are eligible to receive 16 CME credits certified by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). In addition to the discussion schedule, visitors can enjoy a full slate of leisure activities, including campus tours, dinner at the University Club, catamaran cruises, and more.

“Each year, we have added more and more to the continuing medical education conference in Grenada,” said Dr. Bonanno. “We encourage all alumni to take advantage of this opportunity to learn and to once again enjoy this beautiful island.”

First-Year MD Student Presents Research at International Anatomy Conference

Pinthusorn “Blue” Eiamratchanee, a first-year medical student in the St. George’s University/Northumbria University 4-Year MD Program in the United Kingdom, recently presented the initial findings from a research collaborative between Mahidol University International College (MUIC) and SGU at the 19th Congress of the International Federation of Associations of Anatomists (IFAA) in London.

Blue’s research presentation titled, “Novel insights into the anatomy and function of intertendinous connections in human hand” was part of a collaboration established by Dr. James Coey, Assistant Dean of Basic Sciences at SGU, and Athikhun Suwannakhan, a PhD student in the Department of Anatomy at MUIC. The research group was also the first to classify the Linburg-Comstock variation—an anatomical variant of flexor tendons of the hand—into three different types with immunochemistry, and proposed that its etiology is secondary to a traumatic injury or an excessive use of the hand.

“It was such an honor to work with Dr. Coey, an expert in the field of anatomy, and Mr. Suwannakhan, who comes from one of the most prestigious universities in Thailand,” said Ms. Eiamratchanee. “I was really excited about participating and presenting my work at the IFAA conference. It was an amazing opportunity for me to engage in both technological and educational discussions with different associations of anatomists from around the world.

“I have always wanted to be a medical doctor and a researcher,” she added. “I believe that, by being both, it would give me opportunities to use the current knowledge of science to help people understand the problems and obstacles in providing healthcare to patients, as well as expand the current knowledge as a tool for other physicians to provide better and more accurate medical diagnosis, treatment, and/or surgery.”

St. George’s University was further represented at the conference through platform presentations from Dr. Marios Loukas, dean of basic sciences and research at SGU, along with numerous poster presentations and artwork submitted by Dr. Robert Hage, professor of anatomical sciences at SGU, and his daughter, Lisa Hage, MD ’10.

This research collaboration continues to strengthen the relationship between SGU and MUIC, following the partnership established in 2014 that launched a dual BSc/MD degree between the two universities, and most recently the MOU signed in 2018 allowing Mahidol students who successfully complete a preclinical year of study to be eligible to enroll in SGU’s MD degree program.

“Blue is one of the first students to capitalize on this partnership, progressing from MUIC to SGU’s Northumbria program, and in her first year has managed to present at a prestigious international conference,” Dr. Coey said. “Additionally, the fact that this research was a collaboration with Mahidol paves the way for continued joint ventures in the future.”

– Ray-Donna Peters

SGU Dean Speaks on the Future of Ultrasound

In Hong Kong, more than 400 students were in attendance as St. George’s University dean and professor Dr. Marios Loukas presented at the Global Aspiring Medic Conference (GAMC) on July 20. The conference, organized by ARCH Community Outreach (ACO) in collaboration with The University of Hong Kong (HKU), is the largest student medical conference in Asia. As one of the keynote speakers, Dr. Loukas gave a presentation on “Translational Research in Clinical Anatomy; The Way Forward”, which introduced the application of translational research as a tool to address the gap between gross anatomy and patient care.

“Our aim was to show these students how medicine relates with research,” said Dr. Loukas, dean of basic sciences and research at SGU. “We demonstrated how we can use new surgical techniques and approaches that we discovered at SGU, and how we can apply them to solve typical problems that we see in the hospital in patients. We identify a problem, take it back to the lab, solve it, and then go back into the hospital and implement that procedure. This approach is now being used in hospitals all over the world, from Japan to the United States.”

In addition to his keynote speech, Dr. Loukas also held a practical workshop titled, “The Use of Ultrasound in Everyday Practice”, where he performed ultrasounds on eager volunteers, wowing the 50+ students attending. He explained how a doctor could diagnose a patient through the use of an ultrasound scan and also gave each participant invaluable hands-on experience operating the ultrasound device.

“I think the students enjoyed both the lecture and the ultrasound session,” stated Dr. Loukas. “I believe ultrasound is the stethoscope of the future. It has so many uses and has become a cost-saving modality these days, and much less expensive. My hope is that many of these students here today will eventually become doctors treating patients and remember these experiences at the GAMC that were crucial to following this career path.”

At the end of the workshop participants received a copy of Dr. Loukas’ new book, Essential Ultrasound Anatomy, which he co-authored with Dr. Danny Burns. The book provides today’s students with a solid foundation in regional ultrasound anatomy by offering practical, comprehensive coverage of the ultrasound images and important structures that are most frequently encountered in daily practice.

“The book project started three years ago,” Dr. Loukas said. “Dr. Burns and I wanted to combine anatomy within ultrasound, so that students from other courses such as physiology or pathology could understand how we use ultrasound. This forms the basis for any type of student or even resident to start diagnosing different conditions.

“Interestingly, the entire design of the book’s pictures and illustrations were all created here at SGU in our new illustration unit,” added Dr. Loukas. “Since we have medical illustrators in-house, that makes it much easier for us when we’re publishing a paper or writing books. In fact, the quality of the finished product then becomes that much higher.”

In 2011, SGU introduced ultrasound teaching into the Department of Basic Sciences. Today, the department now offers a Point of Care Ultrasound Certification course, allowing students to become certified in ultrasound, which provides an enormous advantage during their clinical years and residencies. St. George’s University is one of the few schools that provides such an intensive ultrasound course.

Additionally, the University has substantially invested over $1 million in the ultrasound technology at the True Blue Campus. Currently, it has more than20 ultrasound units that are operated in conjunction with standardized patients. Each ultrasound station can hold up to four students, paired with a standardized patient and a clinical tutor demonstrating how the device is operated.

– Ray-Donna Peters

Summer Academy Provides Students With Insight Into Medical and Veterinary Medical Careers

In its 17th year, the St. George’s University Med/Vet Summer Leadership Academy continued to provide an insider’s view for college and high school students interested in exploring a career in medicine or veterinary medicine. This summer also marked the largest turnout since the program’s inception in 2002, with 133 aspiring physicians and veterinarians visiting the University’s True Blue campus in Grenada.

The high school student program ran for 10 days, while the Medical Leadership component of the college student program spanned 12 days. Qualified students are eligible for college credit through the School of Arts and Sciences.

“By coming here, students get the opportunity to decide for themselves whether or not this career choice is right for them,” said Avi Bahadoor-Yetman, director of the Med/Vet Summer Leadership Academy. “This experience will either reinforce their passion to practice medicine or veterinary medicine or help them decide this is not the professional path for them.”

Hailing from the United States, Canada, South Korea, Thailand, Philippines and more than 10 other countries, the students were taught through a series of lectures, small-group problem solving sessions, hands-on training, and practical lab work. This year’s lectures ranged from cardiology and neurology to musculoskeletal and gastroenterology, and each is followed by sessions in the anatomy lab during which students work with human and animal cadavers.

However, the program isn’t all work. The academics are balanced out by watersports such as sailing, waterskiing, and snorkeling, as well as hiking through Grenada’s rainforests and other activities that highlight the culture and beauty of the island.

Nonetheless, fatigue is built into program and no matter the schedule, the 15-hour days are by design.

“Attending medical school or veterinary school is both rigorous and exhausting in nature,” said Ms. Bahadoor-Yetman. “Hence the program is designed to create an authentic experience successfully balancing a challenging academic program with extracurricular activities. They get a taste of curriculum, SGU, and Grenada. In addition, the quality of the professors and the organization of the staff help make this an invaluable experience that enhances students’ knowledge in the field of medicine or veterinary medicine, while also offering a tremendous opportunity for personal growth and self-discovery.”

– Ray-Donna Peters

The Gold Standard of Care: AAHA Re-Accredits SGU’s Small Animal Clinic Through 2022

Satisfying approximately 900 standards of excellence set by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), the Small Animal Clinic (SAC) at St. George’s University has been accredited by the AAHA through 2022, having earned the full three-year term for re-accreditation.

SAC Director Dr. Wayne Sylvester, DVM ’04, and his team were notified of the re-accreditation following the AAHA’s site visit in January, during which the clinic was evaluated on standards such as patient care, surgery, exam facilities, medical records, laboratory facilities, emergency services, dental care, diagnostic imaging, anesthesiology, pharmacy, and continuing education.

“This successful re-accrediitation site visit brought immense joy to our team,” Dr. Sylvester said. “We achieved this important accomplishment through the commitment and collaborative efforts of the team at the Small Animal Clinic, our consultants, the members of the Small Animal Clinic Board and Dr. Neil Olson, the SVM Dean, and his Office.”

AAHA accreditation confirms that the SAC compares favorably with some of the best facilities in North America. According to the AAHA, between 12 and 15 percent of all veterinary practices in the United States and Canada are accredited.

“AAHA re-accreditation is a significant milestone as it reflects the excellence in quality of care being provided at the Small Animal Clinic,” added Mellisa Walters, practice manager of the Small Animal Clinic. “Our team is elated.”

Led by Dr. Sylvester and Ms. Walters, the SAC operates seven days a week with 10 clinicians, 13 technicians, and five full-time staff members. The SAC initially received AAHA accreditation in October 2016, and immediately afterward, the SAC staff began to build on the services it already provided in preparation for the January 2019 site visit.

“All of the sections of our practice made significant improvements, we were able to use our previous experience as a foundation on which to build,” Dr. Sylvester said. “Accreditation ascertains the SAC as a leading veterinary facility. It’s a seal of approval that our standard of care is at high level. We will, however, continually seek to continually improve our standards.”

– Brett Mauser

Alumni Association CME Welcomes Back Experts in Art of Medicine

St. George’s University School of Medicine students present research posters during an alumni association continuing ed conference.

Physicians are seen as experts in “the science” of medicine, but being an expert in “the art” of medicine is of equal importance. This art is the therapeutic and caring relationships that physicians build with their patients, which aids science in effecting a cure for illness and suffering. This spring’s School of Medicine Alumni Association (SOMAA) continuing medical education conference in Grenada examined medicine as a scientific study and its practice as an art. The four-day conference, titled “The Art of Medicine,” was held for the third time in association with the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). It featured more than 50 prominent SOM alumni, including local faculty presenters discussing a wide variety of topics across the medical landscape.

“With the size and quality of the conference growing each year, so does its value increase to both our alumni and current SGU students,” said SOMAA President Bruce Bonanno, MD ’83. “In addition to the alumni acquiring CME credits, the students benefit from alumni who are some of the top specialists in their fields. They can ask us the important questions about their medical careers going forward, allowing us the opportunity to share our insight about the rigors of this profession.

“Overall, the conference provides a time to learn, to enjoy Grenada, and give back to the island,” added Dr. Bonanno.

Daniel Herr, MD ’81, an associate professor at St. George’s University and chief of critical care services at University of Maryland Medical Center, also returned to the island he once called home. As a recognized expert in the field of critical care, Dr. Herr is often invited to speak at medical conferences on topics concerning novel/new treatments and therapies for crucially ill patients.

“I’ve always had a soft spot for Grenada and SGU, for giving me the opportunity to become a doctor,” stated Dr. Herr. “I want to be involved and to come back to the island in order reconnect with the place that has given me so much. With more than 20,000 graduates across all schools, our goal is to get as many of us as possible to return and congregate to help present-day students.”

Additionally, the SOMAA provided plenty of opportunities for attendees to soak up some sand, sea, and fun while relaxing on island. The group enjoyed a sightseeing tour of Grenada’s natural beauty; lunch at Belmont Estate, a fully functional and historic plantation; a shopping tour of Grenada’s capital, St. George’s; a Catamaran VIP day cruise including snorkeling and a visit to the Underwater Sculpture Park and Hog Island; and a closing sunset dinner at Louis and Marion Modica Hall.

“The power of CME is that we bring physicians from all over the United States together to listen, learn, and reconnect with each other and St. George’s University—bringing them back to their roots,” said Robert Alig, the newly appointed vice president of alumni affairs, at St. George’s University. “SGU is the foundation for their careers as physicians, so bringing our alumni back to campus affords a unique opportunity for them to interact with current students; and I see the enthusiasm in the students as the alumni connect with them, giving everyone optimism for the continued success of the University.”

– Ray-Donna Peters