Seeing his 90-year-old grandparents, who were always fiercely independent, struggle with mobility issues led Carson Benner to want to focus on ways to improve mobility in older persons.
So when he found out he was accepted for one of just four slots available each year for the Mary Ann Lunsford Student Summer Externship in Cardiovascular Medicine at UTHealth Houston, he was excited he would be able to combine his interests of engineering and science.
“I was over the moon when I found out I got accepted,” said Benner, 22, a senior at Texas A&M majoring in mechanical engineering.
The first person to show him he could combine his interest in engineering with science was his high school biology teacher, Anna Loonam. “She explained to me that the human body is the most amazing machine ever,” he said. “I see myself in the field of orthopedic surgery and the type of health care that allows for an older population to age in place and maintain their dignity.”
This desire to help and interest in innovation led him to join 24 other Texas A&M students and five health care professionals to spend a week and a half in Honduras, providing basic health care to approximately 300 patients who might otherwise not receive any care.
“A lot of the villages that we visited had limited access to materials and that often took some creative thinking to use the supplies we had to provide people with the care they needed,” Benner said.
Now with the externship led by Richard W. Smalling, MD, PhD, professor, the James D. Woods Distinguished Chair in Cardiovascular Medicine, and the Jay Brent Sterling Professor in Cardiovascular Medicine with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, he is seeing innovative procedures done during clinical trials such as the Apollo study on a new approach to mitral valve replacement. The purpose of the externship is to provide undergraduate students with a broad introduction to cardiovascular medicine.
“This experience aligns with my interest of serving an older population, and medical innovation and device design because Dr. Smalling has an engineering background himself,” Benner said.
Smalling holds six patents, co-founded Windmill Cardiovascular Systems to produce a new implantable left ventricular assist device, and recently was elected into the inaugural The University of Texas at Austin Academy of Distinguished Biomedical Engineers.
“I've really enjoyed watching some of the cases Dr. Smalling has been working on and leading in the catheterization lab,” Benner said of this experience. “It’s been exhilarating.”