Jacob Piatt represents Sewanee in award-winning liver research project: next steps for a biochemistry major

Jacob Piatt (C’21) (right) at the CRISP research symposium. Photo courtesy of Elliot.

By Erin Elliot
Staff Writer

Over the course of the summer of 2019, Sewanee student Jacob Piatt (C’21) interned at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, where he managed hospital data and shadowed multiple surgeries while simultaneously compiling research on DCD steatotic livers—a subject with a scarcity of data. 

His poster presentation of this research was displayed at the CRISP (Clinical Research Internship Study Program) research symposium, and his abstract was submitted to The American Society of Transplant Surgeons 2020 Winter Symposium, where it was published this past January. Piatt’s research also received the Symposium’s Poster of Distinction award, demonstrating the vast opportunities provided by a collaboration between the Sewanee Career Center and an exceptionally-driven student.

At the Mayo Clinic, Piatt was given access to a world of high-level dedication and professionalism. He recounted, “In order to help patients, a doctor and his or her medical support team must control their sympathies from the situation, so that emotions do not wholly guide their actions … In the highly-demanding, life-and-death situations of transplant surgery, emotional control was incredibly evident.”

Piatt also had the opportunity to be present during transplant selection committee meetings, where a multi-disciplinary panel made decisions as to who would be placed on the transplant list or receive other types of treatments.  

There were also moments where Piatt recounts that surgeons did not need to communicate to receive their next operating tool. From this, Piatt gathered that “each member of the highly skilled operating team must have had such intricate knowledge of the situation at hand and their job. From [these] summer experiences, I gained insight into professionalism, inclusion, and emotional balance – traits that I believe will enhance my teamwork skills moving forward.”

Through this internship, Piatt was also given insight into the sacrifices and rewards of a job as an on-call surgeon. Under Dr. Kristopher Croome, Piatt shadowed surgeries which started as late as 11 p.m. and ended as early as 3 a.m.  Piatt claimed that observing these late-night operations was “an interesting lesson in the life of some kinds of [medical professionals] that have to be on call at odd hours of the night… Surgery is a certain lifestyle that others may not understand, and [Croome] was very lucky that his wife did understand his life, as she was a transplant nurse.”

Piatt stated that the Mayo transplant physicians had the same consistent counterpoint to this sacrifice of sleep and time: that helping people in these circumstances of liver disease was “unequivocally fulfilling and worth every second. I saw the gift of life be procured from a DBD (donation after brain death) donor … Afterwards, the liver and kidneys, lungs, and heart lay bare on the table, being cleaned up, labeled and then delicately placed into their coolers for transport.” According to Piatt, the donations of this one deceased patient might have potentially saved seven lives.

Piatt is currently a biochemistry major, who has—along with five other students in his class—been given the honor of the Hippocrates Fellowship, Sewanee’s pre-medical leadership program. The program has provided students with unique opportunities to visit the facilities at Yale School of Medicine, shadow a bypass surgery at Washington Adventist Hospital, and tour the new WA hospital, which is currently under construction.

As a student, Piatt is a passionate participant of Sewanee’s rigorous pre-med program. He stated that it is “very interesting, learning about certain biochemical processes such as gluconeogenesis and ketogenesis and then witness their application in real medicine at Mayo.” 

He will be taking the Medical College Admission Test in the spring, and is excited to continue to represent Sewanee through another semester of long nights, dedicated studying, and nationally-recognized achievement.