Originally created 10/11/05

Obstacles in past for LSU student



It's almost as if Mandy O'Leary wasn't meant to finish medical school. First, she broke her ankle during a routine clinic rotation while she was six months pregnant. Then she delivered a son, Reilly, on July 29. A few weeks later, she had to have surgery on the ankle, and then pass a crucial exam a few days after that. Three days later, she joined thousands of others in fleeing New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina hit.

Now doing a pathology rotation at the Medical College of Georgia, Mrs. O'Leary, 29, is still determined to finish at Louisiana State University's School of Medicine.

"Everything happens for a reason," she said. "With the baby coming and the ankle and the hurricane, you would think at some point I would stop and say, 'I shouldn't be doing this right now.' But I haven't. I know this is what I'm supposed to be doing."

On top of everything else, she also is president of the medical school's student government.

"I may be in Georgia right now, but if I can facilitate anything for my classmates back in Louisiana, trying to get their education completed, that's what all of us are supposed to be doing right now," she said.

While her husband tries to work in New Orleans, she stays with Reilly in North Augusta with her sister-in-law, Peggy Seigler.

"I call him Hurricane Reilly," Mrs. Seigler said.

Mrs. O'Leary had planned to do the pathology rotation months ago because she is interested in going to MCG for a residency in pathology. But instead of staying a month, she'll now be here through Christmas.

Other classmates are scattered around the country or are doing rotations at affiliated hospitals in Louisiana. Some of the first- and second-year students and some of the faculty are living aboard a cruise ship docked outside Baton Rouge, Mrs. O'Leary said.

Tulane Universityin New Orleans worked with the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston to move some medical students and faculty there and to provide clinical rotations around Texas, said T. Andrew Albritton, the associate dean for curriculum at MCG.

"I was very impressed how the medical education community came together," he said. "I think the medical community really handled their end very well."

William Chilian, the head of the Department of Physiology at LSU Health Sciences Center, also moved some of his research and a few of his students to labs at MCG.

But come January, if classes are held again, Mrs. O'Leary is determined to return, even if it means having to live in a trailer in Baton Rouge because no rotations are available in New Orleans. And she is determined to graduate on time in May.

"I am about seven months from graduating," she said. "And it's been a long road to get here. So I'm not stopping."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.