After dedicating eight years of her life engineering spacecraft for the government and the private sector, Cynthia Fusco quit the aerospace industry. But it wasn’t because she ran into a glass ceiling.
Rather, Fusco found a higher calling.
Instead of working on the effort to explore outer space, she’s focused squarely on inner space, so to speak. Now a doctor of osteopathic medicine and a surgeon, Fusco late last year was named director of the Trauma Program at Northeast-based Aria Health.
“I liked math and I liked space and designing things,” Fusco said recently. “I always enjoyed that aspect of it, but I always missed the people part of it. [Medicine] is always a challenge because everybody is different, even if it’s the same diagnosis.”
Fusco is based at Aria’s Torresdale Campus, which operates one of Pennsylvania’s 12 designated Level 2 Regional Resource Trauma Centers. It is among just a handful of such facilities in the Philadelphia area. The center draws patients primarily from Lower Bucks County and Northeast Philly.
“All other community hospitals in the area send trauma patients here,” Fusco said.
A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH
Generally, trauma patients are those with serious or critical sudden injuries resulting from accidents or violence. Car crashes often result in trauma cases, as do beatings and shootings.
“That’s why trauma centers were created. There’s a whole group of patients that, if you get intervention quickly enough, you can save them,” Fusco said.
“[At Aria,] we get a lot of blunt trauma, people who were in car accidents and people who have fallen, especially in the elderly population. Broken ribs in an older person can be life-threatening.”
Naturally, Aria-Torresdale’s emergency room is the heart of the trauma facility, but the ER in itself doesn’t qualify as a certified Trauma Center.
“In order to be a Trauma Center, there are a lot of standards you have to meet,” Fusco said. “You have to be available twenty-four/seven with a surgical team on stand-by. And there’s a lot of logistics involved. We have to make sure we meet all the guidelines and standards at all times.
“You have surgeons who specialize in trauma. We have a core group along with some general surgeons.”
In addition, the center must have an operating room team — including table nurses and anesthesiologists — on stand-by around the clock, along with several sub-specialist physicians like a neurosurgeon and orthopedic surgeon. And it must be capable of treating more than one trauma patient at a time.
The Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Foundation certifies qualifying Trauma Centers and inspects the facilities routinely.
ROOTS FROM THE PAST
As the director, Fusco is responsible for making sure that all hands are on deck. In a teamwork sense, her medical career is not unlike her earlier engineering career.
She can trace her interest in both fields to her childhood.
Her parents both hailed from Northern New Jersey, but the family moved quite often during Fusco’s youth. Her father’s own engineering career led the family from Indiana (where she was born) to Florida, Alabama and New Jersey. They eventually settled in the Philadelphia area during her high school years.
Fusco spent many summers with cousins in Long Beach Island. She has two living sisters. One is now an intensive care nurse, while the other is a psychologist and chief operating officer at Friends Hospital in Northwood. A third sister was an attorney and public defender before dying tragically in a house fire.
When Fusco was a young child in Florida, her father was an electrical engineer in the nation’s space program and she watched many launches up close. She even got to meet many of the astronauts on a personal level.
“I grew up in the heyday of the space program in Cocoa Beach,” she said.
She always had a soft spot for the natural world, too.
“I always like taking care of things like animals,” she said.
Years later, when it came time to decide on her course of study and career prospects, all of these many influences came to mind. She chose the undergraduate chemistry program at Hood College in Frederick, Md.
After graduation, she worked as a materials engineer for General Electric in Valley Forge. After four years, she joined a group of colleagues from GE in moving to RCA in Hightstown, N.J. GE was primarily a national defense contractor, while RCA worked on private-sector projects.
“We basically developed the technology for satellites,” Fusco said. “You have to develop them and test them and come up with new combinations that work.”
Yet, after four years at RCA, even this most extreme, cutting-edge work had become relatively mundane to Fusco.
“I had a good job and was doing well. Everybody thought I was nuts to go back to school,” she said, “especially medical school, and nobody was writing the [tuition] checks.”
That her father had recently died from colon cancer also drew her interest to medicine. She re-learned all of her old organic chemistry texts just to take the med school boards and earned admission into Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Her maturity and experience in the practical world probably made her a better student than she might otherwise have been.
“I really wanted to be there and I had been working, then I was back in school,” Fusco said. “I knew I wanted to go into medicine so bad. I knew I wouldn’t have any regrets.”
And she hasn’t.
“I enjoy the challenge of problem solving and approaching things from different viewpoints. And it’s changing constantly. You’re always going to be learning,” she said. “And I like the technical aspects of surgery.”
The work presents physical challenges, too. The hours are long and irregular. One moment, she may be sitting at her desk doing paperwork or making the rounds of post-operative patients. Then the next, she’s scrubbing up for the imminent arrival of a stabbing victim who may or may not survive the ambulance ride.
“We work on all parts of the body. Somebody can come in with a head injury, a punctured lung and a broken leg,” she said.
“You get kind of pumped up. You can go up to the operating room and be there for five hours and don’t even realize it. You do feel it afterwards, but the adrenaline kicks in at the time.”
Whatever the outcome, it will have profound affects on the patient and those close to him or her.
“Emotionally, you try to detach yourself to function. You go into a mechanical mode. When I get more emotional is when I go talk to a family,” Fusco said.
“I like being in touch with families, explaining things. It’s rough for families on a day-to-day basis. I like helping them understand what’s going on.” ••EndFragment