From Athens Drive to the OR
Ahmad Odeh interned with a cardiothoracic surgeon at WakeMed last summer, which inspired him to pursue that as his career.
STUDENT: Ahmad Odeh
SCHOOL: Athens Drive Magnet High School
COLLEGE: N.C. State University
June 4, 2018
The Health Sciences Academy at Athens Drive Magnet High School gives its students unparalleled opportunities to work with top medical providers and researchers in the area.
Those include WakeMed, Duke, Biogen, NIEHS, EPA and N.C. State, just to name a few.
Ahmad Odeh took full advantage. As a result, he got the chance to figure out not only what he wanted to do with the rest of his life – but also, importantly, what he didn’t want to do.
He will head to N.C. State in the fall, intent on pursuing a career as a cardiothoracic surgeon.
“I can’t see myself doing anything else,” he says.
Ahmad, however, once felt drawn to the field of biomedical engineering.
So he signed up for a summer internship with the biomedical engineering department at N.C. State, made possible through a partnership with Athens Drive.
Ahmad speaks with enthusiasm about helping researchers study the impact that strokes and Neonatal Brachial Plexus Injuries (NBPIs) have on the gaits of lab animals, in hopes of developing treatments for human sufferers.
It was interesting work, but, Ahmad says, “It really helped me realize that I’m not that much of an engineering person. I’m more medically oriented.”
‘Ahmad, come up here’
That led him to seek out an apprenticeship with Dr. Charles "Chuck" Harr, executive medical director and cardiothoracic surgeon at Wake Med, again made possible through the Health Sciences Academy partnerships.
“I can’t explain to you how great this doctor is,” Ahmad says. “We’d be in a surgery, and he would stop everything and he’d say, ‘Ahmad, come up here. I want you to see this.’ Then he’d test me: ‘What muscle am I cutting into right now?’”
Due to Ahmad’s medical coursework as part of the Health Sciences Academy, he got the answer right.
Ahmad Odeh observed Dr. Charles "Chuck" Harr in his work as a cardiothoracic surgeon at WakeMed.
‘Definitely what I want to do’
In addition to sharing his medical knowledge, Dr. Harr demonstrated that there’s also an art to being a good physician.
Ahmad recalled observing Dr. Harr examining a young woman who had complained of arm pain but hadn’t received a conclusive diagnosis from other doctors. Tests indicated that her arteries weren’t pumping effectively. Dr. Harr pulled on her arms and told her to resist. He noticed her left was much stronger than her right.
“He told her, ‘You have thoracic outlet syndrome,’” Ahmad recalls. “I realized right then, this is definitely what I want to do.”
‘I expect great things’
Dr. Harr says he has a long history of working with high school, undergraduate and medical school students. He sees a bright future for Ahmad.
“Ahmad will be more than just a doctor,” Dr. Harr says. “He will be a physician, he will be a leader. There are people who think of a doctor as being sort of a technician. We can evolve into that. But we really are healers, if we are doing it right. We heal people’s hearts, we heal their minds, we heal their souls. Ahmad has that quality. As do many students. We have a great bunch of young people who are coming up and will replace those of us who’ve been in it. I expect great things from Ahmad. I’ve only seen the very best out of him. He will epitomize what medicine should be.”
Jennifer Hulsey, director of the Athens Drive Health Sciences Academy, adds that Ahmad “epitomizes what an academy student looks like," noting that it is the oldest career academy in the district, founded in 1990.
His interest level has been high since he began in the academy, visiting Hulsey nearly every day, she says. He's asked to serve on the HSCA Advisory Alliance following his graduation from ADMHS, as a former student.
He was always eager for every opportunity available to him. “He was texting me over the summer, ‘Guess what's going on in the OR today,’” Hulsey says.
“He was having experiences we’ve never had a student have before.”
In addition to the internship and apprenticeship, he also delved into the hands-on EMT training that was part of his Health Sciences Academy focus. Athens Drive has its own ambulance for training purposes, and students go out on ride-alongs with local EMTs.
“I wanted to have patient contact before I got to medical school,” Ahmad says, adding he hopes to receive EMT certification this summer. “I can work as an EMT while in college and help expand my knowledge about medicine. Not a lot of college students are EMTs. Having that advantage will help me a lot in medical school. On my first ride time, I was very nervous. I knew what to do, but there’s this fear that, ‘I don’t need to be here, I’m not ready for this.’ But if I’m comfortable taking blood pressure, taking a patient history and administering medicines now, imagine what I’ll be able to do when I’m in medical school while my classmates are still dealing with that fear.”
His experience on ride-alongs also reinforced his passion for patient care. He recalled a woman who was in agonizing pain. EMTs quickly determined she was having a heart attack and administered medicine.
“This woman went from screaming in agony to almost no pain at all just like that,” Ahmad says. “To see that with your own eyes and to know what’s going on in her body, it’s just, wow.”
‘Started from the bottom’
Mind you, Ahmad has done this all while carrying a huge courseload of AP classes.
His work ethic comes from his father, Jamal, who immigrated from Jordan with his wife and two young daughters in 1996, before Ahmad was born. “It’s an average story for an immigrant,” Jamal says. “Both me and my wife, we have a college degree. We were a middle class family before we moved here. When we came here, we started from the bottom.”
Jamal started as a waiter in a hotel but made barely enough to pay the rent. “When I look at my kids, it motivated me more and more to work harder,” he says.
He found some work through a temp agency while he worked to become a Certified Public Accountant, which he is today.
‘Where his passion is’
Ahmad’s two older sisters both graduated from Athens Drive and N.C. State. One has her MBA, the other is in her second year of law school.
“Really I can’t express in words the thanks for the staff and the management of Athens Drive,” Jamal says. “When Ahmad started high school, it started shaping his personality. He started knowing where he was heading, where his passion is. The teachers are always helping him. Always I see how much love he has for them.”
Jamal says Athens Drive helped lay the foundation for all of his children. “I come from a culture where your life extended through your kids,” Jamal says.
“It’s the belief that if my child achieved it, I feel like I did it. I don’t know much if it’s true. But I feel really happy when I see that my kids will not suffer the same hardships we went through.”
Get to Know the Athens Drive Health Sciences Academy
Students in the Health Sciences Academy take one Health Sciences course per year in addition to their regular courseload, plus they must receive 135 hours of hands-on intern experience.
There are three tracks: Medical Science, Emergency Management Services and Animal Sciences. Students can take steps toward EMT, Pharmacy Technician, Certified Nurse Assistant or veterinarian assistant certification, depending on their track. “It really helps students grow at a pace that’s a little faster than other high school students,” Ahmad Odeh says.
There are 35 graduates from the Health Sciences Academy this year. Another 60 are expected next year, and 86 the year after that. “The numbers are there,” says academy director Jennifer Hulsey.