2013-01-03 / Community

A Small World Within A Large Campus

On January 8th, Harvard alumnus Dr. Stephen O'Brien, and current Harvard students and teammates Alex White and Stephen Jahelka will be sharing something besides their Harvard educations; they will be sharing the same operating room. Dr. O'Brien and Stephen Jahelka are also both residents of Garden City

Since the conception of the college in 1636, Harvard has afforded many people an opportunity to not only get an amazing education but a chance to meet and interact with some of the brightest minds the world has to offer. The atmosphere of interaction and cultural exchange is one of the main things that first attracted Stephen Jahelka to Harvard. A current sophomore living in Kirkland House and a member of the Men's Lacrosse team, Jahelka had been impressed by the amount of people he has met both in the undergraduate population and in the broader network of alumni that can be found across the entire globe. One of the most important functions of this extensive alumni network is to provide avenues for recent Harvard graduates to meet the right people and open doors into careers that they are interested in, a major advantage to attending Harvard. It was not until recently, however, that Jahelka discovered how closely knit the Harvard community was, even though its alumni base stretches over hundreds of thousands of people.

Growing up in Garden City, his parents always told Jahelka that academics should come before athletics and that wise people learn from the successes of people before them. One person he looked up to when he was young was Conor O'Brien, a Garden City graduate and a standout in both lacrosse and football. Conor also excelled in the classroom and was accepted to attend Harvard when he graduated from Garden City. Having played football and lacrosse his entire life, it was easy for Jahelka to use O'Brien as a role model to try and follow in his footsteps. You can imagine Jahelka's excitement when it was none other than O'Brien (Harvard '09) who volunteered to show Jahelka and his family around the Harvard campus when they came up on a visit when Jahelka was a sophomore. A junior in Pforzheimer house, O'Brien spent most of the day with Jahelka and his family, showing them how special a place Harvard is. Well, it worked. A year and a half later, Jahelka applied and was accepted to Harvard University where he would play lacrosse, citing the visit with O'Brien having a lot to do with his decision.

It was not until recently that Jahelka came back into contact with O'Brien. However, it was not the way he had expected. In his senior year of high school, Jahelka had suffered a tear in the labrum of his right shoulder. In an effort not to miss any games, he has taken careful measures to avoid surgery, usually dedicating one and a half hours to shoulder rehabilitation for every two hours of practice time for the last three years. This fall, unfortunately, Jahelka was sidelined with shoulder injuries after experiencing multiple subluxations. Further MRIs revealed additional tearing to the labrum and new tearing to the biceps tendon in the same shoulder, indicating a major problem with the Bicep- Labrum complex.

Obviously distraught and discouraged, Jahelka sought the advice of teammates who had gone through injuries before. The teammate who turned out to be most insightful was senior midfielder Alex While ('13). Alex, who is a Economics concentrator and a member of Lowell House, had the almost the identical surgery on both of his shoulders earlier in his playing career. He recommended the surgery and referred Jahelka to the person who had done his surgeries, Dr. Stephen J. O'Brien, an Associate Attending Orthopedic Surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery and a Harvard graduate ('77). Dr. O'Brien has worked with many renowned organizations such as the New York Giants and the St. John's University Athletic Program. He was also the father of Conor O'Brien, Jahelka's childhood role model who had first showed him around the Harvard campus. Jahelka had first met Dr. O'Brien back in high school when he had first injured his labrum and was excited at the opportunity meet with the world-renowned surgeon again. White explained how he was debating whether to pursue a career in pre - Med and had gotten in touch with Dr. O'Brien through the extensive alumni base to see if he could gain a sense of what the medical world was like and what Dr. O'Brien does. Fortunately enough, Alex was given the opportunity to "shadow" Dr. O'Brien in January and gain further knowledge of his profession.

Jahelka returned home to New York and visited Dr. O'Brien at Hospital for Special Surgery. Among many other fields, Dr. O'Brien has special expertise in the area of disorders of the Bicep - Labrum complex, the same area Jahelka needed repaired. He strongly suggested surgery due to the additional conditions that recently presented themselves. After much deliberation, Jahelka and his family scheduled surgery as early as they could, January 8th. When he returned to school, Jahelka and White immediately conversed and determined that, by pure coincidence, White would be observing Dr. O'Brien, in the operating room, on the same day that Jahelka was scheduled to have his surgery. So if someone were to stop by the operating room on January 8th, they would find Alex White ('13) in the operating room observing, deciding between career paths, and taking advantage of a chance given to him by a Harvard alumnus. On the operating table, they would find Stephen Jahelka ('15), a Harvard sophomore undergoing Bicep- Labrium repair, while under the care of Dr. Stephen O'Brien ('77), a Harvard alumnus and the father of Jahelka's childhood role model, Conor O'Brien ('09). Truly a testament to Harvard and how tightly knit the alumni base is, no matter how large it is in size.

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