Medical student makes surprise life-saving diagnosis

Unexpected emergency turns training into real-life learning experience


Ryan Jones’ medical education led him to make a live-saving diagnosis last March when a mock examination at the University Medical School took a turn for the worse.

Jim Malloy served the University as a mock patient for six years before he met Jones, a University Medical student, one fateful afternoon. Jones took all the normal procedural steps in examining Malloy, who was supposed to be pretending to have an abdominal aortic aneurysm. This condition can cause the aorta to burst, almost always causing fatal internal bleeding unless operated upon within minutes.

“It’s called a silent killer because a lot of times patients don’t have symptoms, and then it ruptures,” Jones said.

While performing the examination, Jones determined that Malloy did in fact have an AAA. At the time, Jones believed that the University had hired a real-life patient and his condition was part of the educational exercise.

“I figured U.Va. must have hired him for the case just to give me the experience of finding the aneurysm,” Jones said. “It caught me a little off guard because you don’t expect to encounter such a serious problem.”

Jones informed the physician in charge of the exercise that Malloy had an AAA and left the hospital unaware that Malloy was previously undiagnosed. According to Malloy, the condition would have gone untreated if it were not for Jones’ discovery.

“I had no idea [it was there],” Malloy said. “I didn’t have any symptoms and no discomfort. I was playing a role. The fact that he spoke up was significant.”

After speaking with Jones, the supervising physician encouraged Malloy to see an oncologist. A few months later Malloy was found to have an aneurysm of 5.9 centimeters and underwent successful stent surgery at the University Medical Center Aug. 29.

By chance, Jones discovered his diagnosis saved a life when he overheard Malloy’s wife Louise telling the story at a medical school event.

Published January 14, 2014 in FP test, News

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