Instead of wearing a white coat and doing research in Sierra Green could be there as a patient, receiving treatments for her soccer injuries.
“I’ve played soccer my whole life.” Green said.
This life-long passion has a price: most of her body parts have been taped at one time or another, including ankles, wrists and knees. She’s torn ligaments, had stress fractures, dislocated joints and banged up her shins. On the field she always a protective brace on her bad right knee
“You name it, I pretty much had it,” Green said.
As a highly competitive player, her high school team was one of the top teams in Georgia and they traveled throughout the Southeast. She played in college showcase tournaments all over the country, where scouts saw her and offered athletic scholarships for college.
Green had a hard time deciding whether to accept and to go to college free of financial worries but obliged to play soccer, or asking her parents for tuition help and having soccer be optional.
Over time, her experiences with her injuries – and having them repaired — stirred a passion for surgery and its capacity to fix the body. She made up her mind for medical school: “Like the time when I was young and went back home saying, ‘Dad, I wanna play soccer, this time I went back home and said ‘Dad, I wanna be a doctor!’”
She decided the “perfect” solution would be to save money by completing a B.S. in biology in two and half years. Which meant taking summer courses and at least 15 credits each regular semester.
“I was still able to have a life, play soccer on multiple teams, visit my family, and spend time with my friends,” Green said. She denies being a super woman, and says that the key is time management. This same skill is indispensable in medical school.
And so it is that Green, only 23 years old, is the “baby” in the third-year class at the GHSU/UGA Medical Partnership.
Along with the other third-year students, Green started her clinical “rotations” this fall. These are short, hands-on apprenticeships in a series of different specialties. She began on the obstetrics and gynecology service in Athens Regional Medical Center and then moved to pediatrics.
The continuity was magical. “That was amazing when I was introduced to mothers in pediatrics department and some mothers would say ‘Of course I know Sierra! She delivered my baby!’”
It’s no surprise that for her elective rotation she has circled back to her original interest, orthopedics, and helping doctors at Athens Orthopedic Clinic test a new implantable device. It is used in a procedure called anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF).
This procedure is used to relieve cervical spondylosis, which is basically degeneration of the joints within the neck. Working with experienced surgeons, her job is to compile and analyze data and draft a research paper, which ideally will show high rates of fusion and low rates of hardware failure with this device.
Back at home, Green has a grandmother who depends on her knowledge, too.
Like many older adults, Green’s beloved “Grandma” is quite familiar with orthopedic clinics: she’s had cervical fusions, lumbar fusion in the spine, wrist surgery, a shoulder replacement, and foot surgery.
As a child, Green often accompanied Grandma to the surgeon, who noticed her interest. He began explaining all kinds of medical terms to her, even allowed her to enter the operating room when she was in high school. “That sealed the deal for me to become a surgeon.” She recalls.
Now Grandma calls and says, “Sierra, this is the interpretation of my X-rays, what does this mean?” On Green’s most recent visit home, Grandma asked, “Sierra, why you always have to be right?”
Earlier Green had speculated that maybe it was time for a knee replacement, and soon afterward the surgeon made the same recommendation and scheduled the operation. When it’s done, Green says she is eager to help support her grandmother’s recovery.
Unfortunately, that’s going to be harder than Green expected: During a mixed-gender match in early October, she and a guy kicked each other as they went for the soccer ball. She tore a tendon in her foot and may have fractures as well. She also learned, thanks to X-ray studies of her injured foot, that she was born with an extra bone that predisposes her to problems.
“Generally, women athletes are prone to being hurt more than men athletes because they have different bone geometries like wider hips,” Green said. “And now this extra bone causes accessory navicular syndrome, which just means that this is most likely going to be a chronic issue.” Doctors said she will probably need surgery to relieve persistent pain.
Despite this news, Green still thinks she is the lucky one. “Fortunately, I currently work in an orthopedic office surrounded by multiple doctors who have helped me!”