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Meet the star of Gradys Anatomy

Nii-Daako Darko ’00, from the CNN documentary Grady's Anatomy.

You won’t find the McDreamy character from the ABC hit series Grey’s Anatomy winning over the hearts of women at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital.

But you will find Nii-Daako Darko ’00, a second-year surgical intern, winning over the hearts of his patients as he works feverishly to save lives during his 30-hour shift.

Darko is one of four residents chosen from Emory University School of Medicine and Morehouse School of Medicine to be profiled in CNN’s gritty, behind-the-scenes Special Investigations Unit documentary Grady’s Anatomy. The one-hour documentary, which premiered in the spring, aired again commercial-free on Monday, Aug. 6 from 4-5 a.m. on CNN.

For three weeks, CNN's Special Investigations Unit followed Sanjay Gupta, M.D., and four residents around Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, one of the busiest Level 1 trauma centers in the United States. The documentary chronicles the challenges and pressures faced by Dr. Gupta and the residents—Darko, Robin Lowman, Andrea Meinerz, and Luis Tumialan—as they care for patients in an inner-city hospital and juggle 80-hour workweeks with their personal lives.

Check out a video clip featuring Nii-Daako Darko ’00 and a "Behind the Scenes" account of the making of Grady's Anatomy on CNN.com.

Darko, whose parents are immigrants from Ghana, earned a B.S. in biology in 2000 from Lehigh University. During his time at Lehigh, he participated on the men’s track and cross country teams and served as president of the Black Students Union. After graduation, Darko returned to Lehigh as a graduate assistant with the athletics department while taking graduate-level courses in the biological sciences department.

Darko went on to graduate from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences’ College of Osteopathic Medicine and Rockhurst University’s Helzberg School of Management, earning D.O. and M.B.A. degrees in their four-year, dual-degree program.

Darko was more than willing to lend his time and face to the drama-filled documentary after being made aware by the chairperson of his residency program that CNN was interested in following an intern on the general surgery service.

“I was shocked and at the same time excited. I told him I would do it in a heartbeat. I had to do a video interview with CNN just to see if I would do well on camera,” Darko says. “A couple of weeks later, they told me I was one of the residents chosen, and let’s just say the rest is history.”

Putting patients first

CNN videographers and producers followed the fast-moving resident day and night for three weeks. The result is a no-frills look into the truth behind the exhausting and emotionally draining life as an intern.

“Watching television shows such as ER and Trauma: Life in the ER gives viewers an up-close and sometimes dramatized view into the lives of physicians,” Darko says. “So with the opportunity to have America take a small glimpse into my world as a resident—it was a no-brainer!”

While the romanticized setting of Seattle Grace Hospital in Grey’s Anatomy is a far cry from Grady Memorial’s grueling atmosphere as one of the country’s busiest Level 1 trauma hospitals, they do have one thing in common—drama.

In between car crashes, fires, and gunshot wounds to the eye, one might wonder if this is just another episode of Grey’s Anatomy. But the four residents make it clear that, unlike in ABC’s hit show, the patients are their primary focus and they leave all of their personal drama at the door.

Darko’s connection to his patients can be seen as he arrives at Grady Memorial at 3:45 a.m., more than two hours before his scheduled rounds, to pre-round his patients before the official start of his 30-hour shift. Darko says that during this time, he feels like the hospital is his and that his patients give him the motivation and stamina to withstand the long hours and constant time-constraints.

“Another component is the sheer eagerness at being able to have an opportunity to calm the fears and ills of my patients,” Darko says. “I won’t lie, there are times when I feel that I can’t see another patient or even write another progress note, but then in the middle of the night an exciting trauma or patient who needs an emergency operation will come in and provide the necessary adrenaline to make it through the rest of the night.”

Darko credits his passion for medicine to his first medical experience as a freshman at Lehigh shadowing Jordan Garrison ’78 at the University Hospital in Newark, N.J.

“Before then, I had no idea what type of doctor I wanted to be. But I immediately found myself attracted to the relationships he had with his patients, and also the pressures with life and death situations he often dealt with in the ‘Trauma Bay.’ That summer ultimately solidified that my calling was in medicine,” Darko says.

Developing tunnel vision

Darko says the CNN documentary does a good job portraying their lives as interns and even their social lives—or lack thereof. He says being in front of the camera 24 hours a day didn’t affect his ability to perform as a doctor.

“During the high-stress moments, I honestly either blocked them out or just forgot that they were around,” Darko says. “I think most physicians would react in a similar fashion. More importantly, I think patients appreciate a physician who has tunnel vision in relation to their specific condition.”

Darko is a major proponent of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), the largest student-run organization dedicated to eliminating health disparities in underserved and rural communities. Darko served as the regional director and acknowledges the program as a major factor in his understanding of the importance of mentorship, networking for professional development, and emphasizing the need for more physicians to practice in underserved and rural communities.

After graduating from his residency program, Darko would like to enter a fellowship program in plastic surgery or trauma surgery, while continuing to educate others.

“I’ve developed an interest in teaching medical students who are on service with us, and therefore, would like to remain within the realms of academic medicine,” Darko says. “My passion is currently in mentoring both pre-medical and medical students, particularly minority pre-medical students, to gain successful entry into medical school.”

--Madelyn King

Posted on Friday, August 03, 2007

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