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Helping People Heal from the Battlefield to Ohio Valley
By Daniel Casciato


Dr. Kelly ZbanicFrom the time she was a young girl, Dr. Kelly Zbanic was always interested in medicine and helping people. Her parents fostered that aspiration by persuading her to pursue activities and educational experience that leaned towards that discipline.

A graduate of West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. Zbanic completed her Internship and Residency at Largo Medical Center in Florida. Upon completion of surgical residency, Dr. Zbanic was a Major in the United States Army. She deployed to Afghanistan, where she worked in combat trauma for nine months. Her forward surgical team—the first stop when soldiers get injured on the battlefield—would stabilize the wounded and prepare them for safe transport to the next level of care.

She calls her tour of duty overseas the proudest accomplishment in her career so far. "It was a wonderful feeling to be able to help wounded soldiers when they were in their most dire need."

Dr. Zbanic returned to civilian life in August of this past year to work as a general surgeon for Ohio Valley Professional Services General & Vascular Surgery, which is part of Ohio Valley Hospital. She loved the idea that Ohio Valley was a community-based hospital.

"That was an important criteria," she notes. "Also, when I began looking for a job, I wanted to return home to the Pittsburgh area. My husband and I have twin babies and we want to ensure they grow up with snow. After my medical training in Florida and being stationed in South Carolina for the military, we didn't see snow for several years. We knew when we had children we wanted to come back north. When I heard Ohio Valley was looking for a general surgeon, I was really excited."

Now back in civilian life, Dr. Zbanic says the big difference in treating non-military patients versus soldiers, is that in the military, she never had to worry about anyone not being able to afford the health care they required.

"I see now how difficult it is for some patients," she says. "Sometimes money is a big factor in being able to afford their medication. That's a big struggle because we want everyone to receive the care they need. But we try to find ways to make things work and recommend various programs that can assist patients."

She encourages people to not delay in seeing their physician when health issues arise. Based on her experience, some people don't want to see their physician because they are afraid of the information they are going to receive.

"They fear receiving bad news," she says. "So they push things off a bit longer than they should because they are worried what they might find out about their health. Even though you may not like some of the information you are told, it's best to get the problem diagnosed and treated early. That way it's not as complicated."

Whether it's helping steer her patients to programs that could offer assistance or treating a patient's diagnosis, Dr. Zbanic fully enjoys this patient care part of her profession. "It's very gratifying when someone comes in who doesn't feel well and you help them feel better. For example, when a patient comes in with acute appendicitis, you can see how much pain they are in. I take them into surgery, fix their problem and when they wake up, they feel so much better."

While Dr. Zbanic's schedule keeps her pretty busy these days, she always looks forward to spending as much time with her family as possible.

"I have 14-month-old twins—a boy and a girl—so I don't have time for hobbies," she says with a laugh. "They're my biggest priority. Kids take a lot of time and I really enjoy playing with them and being a mom. It's a lot of fun."

Even with her busy schedule and enjoyment of family life, Dr. Zbanic always finds great fulfillment in performing surgery and helping her patients feel better. The care and dedication she provided in the military, and is now providing at OVH, is a testament to this.

Name: Dr. Kelly Zbanic

Practice Name: Ohio Valley Professional Services General & Vascular Surgery

Education: Undergraduate training at Gannon University in Erie, PA; Medical school at West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in Lewisburg, WV; Residency training at Largo Medical Center in Largo, Florida; Active duty in the United States Army; deployed to Kuwait and Afghanistan.

Specialty: General Surgery

Years in Practice: 4 years

Why did you choose your specialty? I love general surgery. During my hospital rotations as a medical student, I couldn't quite decide what I wanted to specialize in. However, my first general surgery rotation was the first rotation that I was really excited about. I would get home late at night—sometimes after midnight—read on whatever topic of the day was for a few hours prior to going to bed. When my alarm would go off at 4 or 5am the next morning, I couldn't wait to get to work. That's when I knew general surgery was for me.

What symptoms do patients ignore most?
It is not a specific symptom or problem I see patients ignore, but the whole illness. Often patients seem to delay care when they are not feeling well, because they think they will just get better in another day or two.

What advice do you wish patients would take seriously?
Keeping up to date on preventative health care. People tend to ignore some screenings, such as breast exams and colonoscopies, because they currently don't have a problem and perceive them as an embarrassing exam. By the time they finally have the screening done, they sometimes discover there is a problem and then they wish they had not procrastinated. People need to understand that there is no such thing as an embarrassing exam when you come to the doctor. If we can catch a problem early, we have a better chance of treating it successfully. It's really important to stay up to date on preventative care, because the easiest way to treat a problem is to prevent it from occurring.

What question do patients most often ask?
A big concern is what the post-operative period will be like because of some anxiousness about discomfort, as well as how will it affect them in their daily activities and getting back to work.

Tell us about your most compelling case.
One of the cases that impacted me most was while I was in Afghanistan. We had several soldiers come to the forward surgical team via helicopter, the report we received ahead of time from the medics mentioned the most severe casualty being a soldier with a gunshot wound to the chest. When the patients were being off loaded, I was of course looking for this soldier. Usually a soldier with such an injury is easy to spot. The first person offloaded was a sergeant limping who appeared short of breath refusing help and demanding we take care of every other soldier first.

As each soldier was offloaded, the sergeant gave a quick rundown of each person. I quickly saw none of the soldiers he was telling me about had a gunshot wound to the chest. I inquired with the medics as to the soldier with the gunshot wound to the chest. The sergeant sharply replied, "I am fine, it's my soldiers that need you Doc!" The sergeant refused treatment until he was ordered to get on a stretcher and receive treatment. Although he seemed okay on the surface, he did have severe injuries that required stabilization and transfer up to the next level of care. Ultimately, he was found to have a bullet lodged in the area just above the heart between the main artery and vein. I found his selflessness and courage amazing. It was a great example of a "military family" as he could not have cared more for those soldiers even if they were from his own family… and yes, the sergeant recovered just fine.

What innovation has changed treatment in your specialty?
More interest is developing in robotic assisted surgery. In fact, my partner and I are being trained in robotic assisted surgery to add the skill to our repertoire. Robotic assisted surgery is being utilized and studied in many ways. It is not yet mainstream, however I feel it might be now what laparoscopic surgery was 30 yrs ago.

For more information, call (412) 777-4332 or visit www.ohiovalleyhospital.org.

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