This past year has proven that life can take a series of unexpected twists and turns. This is especially true for Dr. Darlene Recker.
The 1998 Movement Science graduate uses her skills as a cardiothoracic anesthesiologist to care for COVID-19 patients undergoing surgical placement of Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO). ECMO machines pump and oxygenate a patient’s blood outside the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest and possibly recover.
When COVID hit in March 2020, Dr. Recker and her colleagues suddenly had their work lives turned upside-down when their hospital was designated as their health system’s COVID hospital. Dr. Recker’s cardiac team was tasked with putting COVID pneumonia patients on ECMO.
“We were busy trying to save the lives of some of the hardest-hit people who had COVID,” she said.
“Patients with severe COVID arrive at the operating room critically ill and it is the role of the cardiothoracic anesthesiologist to keep these patients alive until they can be stabilized by ECMO,” Dr. Recker continued. “As an anesthesiologist, I manage their ventilator, give IV medications to stabilize their blood pressure, transfuse blood, and evaluate their heart with transesophageal echocardiography to help guide the surgeon. And all of this happens in a short amount of time.” She noted that while she does anesthesiology for all types of surgeries, she cares for patients undergoing heart surgeries a majority of the time.
While Dr. Recker’s medical training helped prepare her for the pandemic, her biggest challenge was keeping up with daily updates of new scientific information about the virus and implementing treatment and guidelines in real-time.
The knowledge I gained from my education provided me a strong foundation. Even though I was out of school for six years, medical school was a seamless transition. I wasn’t struggling; I wasn't having to make up any lost time.
Dr. Recker, who also played volleyball while at U-M, was drawn to Movement Science because of her interest in science and biology. After graduation, she worked in the exercise and fitness field for six years before going to medical school at Michigan State College of Osteopathic Medicine. That was followed by a four-year anesthesiology residency at Rush University Medical Center and a one-year fellowship training in cardiothoracic anesthesiology at the University of Chicago.
Dr. Recker felt that her Movement Science degree more than prepared her for the rigors of medical school.
“The knowledge I gained from my education provided me a strong foundation. Even though I was out of school for six years, medical school was a seamless transition. I wasn’t struggling; I wasn't having to make up any lost time,” she said.
The support she received from the school also helped. “I felt like the instructors were interested in you doing well, not only on the court but also in school and personally,” she said. “When your professors and instructors are rooting for you, it motivates you to do well, and in turn, gives the school momentum because everyone has invested so much into it.”