Taking Care of Your Heart
Three years ago, PA student Ryland Roderick suffered cardiac arrest. Now, he is considering specializing in cardiac medicine.
When he woke up in the cardiac intensive care unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, he was told that a medical fellow gave him CPR and that a swarm of medical professionals—a trauma surgeon, critical care nurse, and another doctor had come to his aide.
“Fortunately I was in Pill Hill in Brookline so there were countless medical professionals everywhere,” says Roderick. “I had a full medical team before I even set foot in the hospital.”
When he arrived at the hospital, he didn’t have a wallet or an ID with him. The hospital found his MCPHS lanyard and contacted the school who reached out to the program director who then alerted his mother.
At the hospital, he was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy—an abnormal thickening of the heart muscle, which can lead to the development of life-threatening arrhythmias and sudden cardiac arrest.
“I firmly believe that adolescents need to be evaluated for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy by their primary care providers, considering numerous children are participating in strenuous sporting activity at such a young age. You may not know that you have it until it’s too late,” he says. “Unfortunately, not a lot of people are lucky enough to have people around that can properly perform CPR.”
According to a study, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy may account for about one-half of the sudden deaths in a youthful athletic population.
Four days after being admitted to the hospital, Roderick underwent surgery to have an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) placed in his chest.
Roderick explains that he was asked if he wanted to take a medical leave of absence from the program, but he decided against it.
Just one day after undergoing surgery for an ICD, he was back in his organic chemistry class.
“I felt like I knew my body and my brain. I knew I could handle juggling life as a full-time student with my new life as a cardiac patient,” he says. “And it was a struggle, because for many weeks following my cardiac arrest, simply getting out of bed would jump my heart rate to over 120 beats per minute and I’d be exhausted just by walking across the room.”
He explains that his condition has made him more conscious of his heart.
“Despite these challenges, I was motivated to condition my body in a healthy manner so that I could reach the point where I could feel like a normal college student again — and I did so successfully. Being able to exercise again was an immense milestone,’’ he says. “For a while, it was a really large obstacle, and it was a huge challenge that I don’t think most 19-year-olds have to face, but I persisted.”
Roderick explains that his experience as a patient deeply strengthened his commitment to being a physician assistant.
“As a provider, it’s easy to deem patients as easily irritable, impatient, and uncooperative. As a patient, it’s natural to feel this way, because you're getting woken up at 4 a.m., 5 a.m., or 6 a.m.; machines are beeping continuously; you’re undergoing numerous tests when all you want to do is rest; and you are getting picked, probed, and questioned by so many strangers. After experiencing a patient’s perspective firsthand, I now find it really easy to empathize with patients on a deeper level. Although my time in the hospital was an unfortunate experience . . . I believe it was very much worth it as an aspiring provider in the long run,” he says.
Roderick completed his bachelor’s degree in 2021 and is currently in his second year of the master's portion of the Bachelor of Science in Premedical Health Studies — Physician Assistant Studies Pathway (BS/MPAS) program.
He knew that he wanted to be a physician assistant after shadowing PAs in high school.
“I loved the time that they spend with the patients. I absolutely loved the history taking and physical exams–this is the best part of the patient interaction because you are getting a thorough medical history, then later perform an actual physical exam to find out what’s wrong and that’s ingrained heavily in our curriculum,” he says.
He was attracted to applying at MCPHS because the Boston campus is in the heart of the Longwood Medical Area, home to some of the world's leading medical institutions.
“I’ve been here since undergrad, so I knew this is where I wanted to do it. I love the faculty. I love my colleagues. I love the campus. I love where we are in Boston—the medical hub of the U.S.,” he says. “There’s no better place to do it.”
In the classroom, he says that this extra knowledge that he gained as a patient has changed the way he interacts with the material. He explains that when the class was doing the cardiac physical examination, he was able to teach people what he had learned from his stay in the hospital and as a patient.
He explains that he feels a sense of camaraderie especially working with cardiac patients.
“When you are a new patient, you have all these people around that are throwing a lot of medical jargon at you and that can be super overwhelming so I feel like once you have someone who knows to some extent what you are going through, there’s a lot more empathy and compassion," he says. "That makes the provider/patient interaction a lot smoother for both parties.”
Roderick is exploring the possibility of specializing in cardiac medicine.
“The heart is such a fascinating topic,” he says. “I absolutely love the heart. I’ve read and learned so much about cardiac electrophysiology, cardiac disorders and disease, and other various disciplines of cardiac research. I even worked alongside my own electrophysiologist as a cardiology student at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, learning how to evaluate EKGs and conduct a proper cardiac history and physical examination. I really can’t picture myself doing anything else.”
Starting in May, Roderick will be starting his clinical rotations and then he will take his national certification exam. He plans to stay in the Boston area.