Medical Alumni Association

Lee Varelas, MS-2

My name is Lee Varelas, and I am a second year medical student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. I was exposed to many exciting specialties during my first year of medical school, several of which I previously had little to no knowledge about. Early on I found that I was particularly drawn to the specialty of plastic surgery, which led me to join the plastic surgery interest group. Through the interest group, I met Dr. Shoshana Ambani, the Department of Plastic Surgery’s microvascular reconstructive surgery fellow. She allowed me to help her on an exciting study regarding venous thromboembolism (VTE) prophylaxis in microsurgical patients, and we have since spent the past year working closely together on this project.


Our study addressed a serious gap in postsurgical outcomes. Inadequate enoxaparin dosing for VTE chemoprophylaxis has been associated with increased risk of downstream VTE events in plastic surgery populations. Microsurgical free flap patients comprise an especially high-risk subpopulation, due to age, cancer diagnoses, and longer operative times. With this in mind, we conducted a pilot study of 20 microsurgical patients, investigating the adequacy of standard enoxaparin dosing for VTE prevention in patients undergoing free tissue transfer to the head and neck (H&N) and breast. In short, we found that standard enoxaparin dosing for VTE chemoprophylaxis in free flap patients appears to be inadequate, achieving appropriate prophylaxis in just a minority of patients.

With these exciting results, Dr. Ambani urged me to submit our abstract to the Northeastern Society of Plastic Surgeons 34th Annual Meeting. The meeting was taking place in Newport, Rhode Island, and would be my first interstate trip as a member of the medical field. I was incredibly excited to hear back that I had been accepted to present, and made arrangements immediately.

Plastic surgeons from across the entire Northeast attended the meeting, including many leaders of the field. The weekend was an enriching experience, and I was honored to have the privilege to learn from such accomplished clinicians and researchers. There are many exciting advances occurring across the various plastic surgery subspecialties, and my time in Newport helped me to gain a better understanding of where the future of plastic surgery lies. Additionally, I gathered great insight into what life as a plastic surgeon entails, which is invaluable knowledge as I decide which specialty to pursue following medical school.

My presentation was scheduled for 8AM Saturday morning, and while I was nervous, I feel that the presentation went smoothly and was very well received. Following the presentation, several audience members asked thought provoking questions, and I was able to expand on some of the finer details of the study. Overall, it was a thrilling experience, and one that I hope will guide me to greater successes as my career advances.

I cannot thank the University of Pittsburgh SOM Medical Alumni Association enough for the role they played in allowing me to attend this meeting. I am greatly honored and appreciative for the experience.