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Life events could not stop grad’s drive to be a physician

Posted on Wednesday, May 19, 2010 · Volume: XLIII · Issue: 10

Beth Terpolilli Teegarden (right), who is about to receive an M.D. with Distinction in Research, is pictured at the Grand Canyon with her husband, Conor, a U.S. Air Force captain.
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Beth Terpolilli Teegarden (right), who is about to receive an M.D. with Distinction in Research, is pictured at the Grand Canyon with her husband, Conor, a U.S. Air Force captain.clear graphic

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Contact: Will Sansom, (210) 567-2579

SAN ANTONIO (May 18, 2010) — Given her academic abilities and medical family background, it isn’t surprising that Beth Terpolilli Teegarden will receive her medical degree from the UT Health Science Center San Antonio School of Medicine on Saturday, May 22. Nor is it surprising, given her mental curiosity and laboratory expertise, that she will be receiving the M.D. with Distinction in Research.

But when you hear that Beth went through two major life events during medical school — marriage and cancer — and is graduating only a year later than planned, her achievement can truly be appreciated.

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Medical upbringing
Beth was born in Ohio, where her father, retired U.S. Air Force physician Ralph Terpolilli, M.D., was stationed. The family moved to San Antonio where she grew up. Her father is a clinical associate professor in the Department of Surgery’s Division of Emergency Medicine at the Health Science Center.

She attended Health Careers High School in the Northside Independent School District. After graduating, she went to Austin College in Sherman as a premed student, finishing there in 2003.

Interest in research
In the fall of 2005, Beth began studies in the School of Medicine, when the M.D. with Distinction in Research was first offered to the incoming class. Teegarden went for it and allocated time for studies in the laboratory of Albert P. "Pete" Shepherd, Ph.D., in the Department of Physiology. She performed statistical modeling of a hand-held device designed to give cardiac output values. The goal was to use the hand-held device to provide an accurate picture of heart function without having to do more extensive catheterization (cath) lab technical evaluation.

During her second year of medical school, Beth presented a paper on the device at the Pediatric Interventional Cardiology Symposium held in Las Vegas, Nev. A few months later, the Journal of Invasive Cardiology published a paper that listed her as lead author.

Wedding at Air Force Academy
She kept her research involvement going while in the midst of lectures, labs, clinical skills training, phase exams — and tying the knot. In January 2006 she met U.S. Air Force Capt. Conor Teegarden. The rest, they say, is history. The couple was married at the Air Force Academy Chapel in Colorado Springs on June 9, 2007 — 33 years and three days after her mother and father were married there.

A bump in the road
On June 21, 2007, less than two weeks after getting married, Beth was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cancer. She took a medical leave of absence that fall while receiving chemotherapy for four months and radiation for a month. Her physician is local oncologist Joseph Holahan, M.D.

“I got the phone call with the diagnosis as I was sitting in class,” Beth said. “One of my classmates walked me over to Dr. Lee Jones’ office (he was the dean of student affairs at the time) and we went from there. My husband was stationed at the Royal Air Force Lakenheath Base in England, but his squadron allowed him to be in San Antonio for my treatment as much as possible.”

Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one of the most treatable of all cancers, and Beth responded well to chemo. All PET-CT scans are negative to this day (two and a half years later). She now seeks to pursue her interest is general operating room anesthesiology. “I never doubted I would stay on the path to becoming a physician,” she said.

Brighter days
In January 2008, Beth started her third year of medical school. The dean’s office of the School of Medicine reorganized her schedule so she could start with a rotation in psychiatry, which was less strenuous and involved less infection risk than a rotation in another specialty, such as pediatrics or surgery.

In August 2009, Beth's husband was reassigned from England to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, N.C. “He flies the two-seater fighter jet, the F15-E, and is the weapons system officer who sits in the back seat,” said the proud wife, who even went up in a refueling tanker to take a photo of him in his supersonic aircraft.

“This year will be our third wedding anniversary and our first we get to celebrate together,” she said.

On the last Match Day for graduating medical students nationwide, Beth learned she was selected to do a preliminary internal medicine year at the East Carolina University Brodie School of Medicine. She understandably hopes to follow up with an anesthesia residency in the region.

“Now I know what it is like on the other side of the white coat,” Beth said. “I know what it is like to be a patient, undergo tests, wait for labs, and trust and put my faith in another physician. Those who have never had any illness can still be stellar clinicians, but the empathy and understanding that comes from being on the other side is invaluable.”

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The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, one of the country’s leading health sciences universities, ranks in the top 2 percent of all U.S. institutions receiving federal funding. Research and other sponsored program activity totaled a record $259 million in fiscal year 2009. The university’s schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced 27,000 graduates. The $753 million operating budget supports six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. For more information on the many ways “We make lives better®,” visit www.uthscsa.edu.

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