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Kidney Fair exposes med school students to career in nephrology

Posted Nov 8th, 2023

Dr. Danny Lagrotteria and Krista Connor speak to students during the Kidney Fair. They are standing at the front of a classroom.

Dr. Danny Lagrotteria, Head of Service for Kidney Care at Niagara Health, and Krista Connor speak to students during Kidney Fair, an annual event that gives first-year medical students the chance to learn about nephrology as a medical subspecialty.

Krista Connor always knew she was at risk for major health complications.

The Niagara woman’s father had polycystic kidney disease (PKD). So did her grandmother and brother.

In 2009, just after giving birth to her first son, William, her body started to give signs it was her turn with the genetic illness that can lead to kidney failure.

Connor was diagnosed with PKD and taken into the care of nephrologist Dr. Danny Lagrotteria, Head of Service for Kidney Care at Niagara Health, and a team of nurse navigators, social workers, dietitians and pharmacists dedicated to supporting her healthcare journey.

“I’m so grateful,” Connor said. “Because of that multi-disciplinary team, you do get the utmost care.”

Connor, who eventually received a kidney transplant after two years of undergoing home hemodialysis, shared her story with 31 first-year medical students from McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine – Niagara Regional Campus (NRC) last week at Kidney Fair, a joint venture between Niagara Health and NRC.

She was one of several patients experiencing different kidney illnesses and treatments to join Niagara Health’s kidney care team in speaking to students about nephrology as a medical subspecialty they could pursue.

Dave Bennison speaks to med students about his kidney care journey. He is hooked up to a dialysis machine.

Dave Bennison, who normally does home hemodialysis, speaks to students about his kidney care journey while receiving dialysis treatment at the St. Catharines hospital during Kidney Fair.

In addition to hearing Connor’s story, students got to see patients undergoing peritoneal dialysis and hemodialysis, and ask questions about their care. They also watched an ultrasound assessment of a working fistula, which is a connection made between a vein and artery for long-term dialysis access, and learned more about the kidney transplant process.  

“When everything is new and you’re learning about all the medical subspecialties, it’s nice to know about a day in the life, the people and patients, what they do, as opposed to sitting in a classroom and learning what the kidney does,” Dr. Lagrotteria said.

“They’re only a few months into their studies so seeing a dialysis patient, talking to physicians, hearing from a transplant patient – these are things they would not normally get. They appreciate the education and opening their eyes to subspecialties.”

That’s true for student Grant Sweeney, who’s undecided about the direction he’ll go in his career. Sweeney, who hails from Burlington, has a grandfather who is a family physician.

Sweeney said he’s always been drawn to the interaction with patients and relationships with families that his grandfather had. But nephrology also piqued his interest after hearing Dr. Lagrotteria speak about his own career path and the evolution of kidney care at Niagara Health to be on par with hospitals in major centres.

“The idea of internal medicine is super interesting to me and knowing so many things. Nephrology fits with that,” Sweeney said. “There’s something really exciting about understanding the interplay between the two.”

Seeing medicine in action as opposed to reading about it in a textbook held a lot of appeal, too, he noted.

“I’m excited to see patients and interact with patients receiving care,” Sweeney said. “In med school, you get focused on the science of things and the physiology of things, but hearing from patients and why they’re here, the care they’re receiving, reminds me why I’m here.”

Niagara Health System