April 2, 2024

Wranosky-College Professor to Student Mentor

By Haley Jones, Director of Development and Marketing

Once again, I found myself sitting across from Vernon Wranosky, a resident of Village Manor whom I have had the great privilege of getting to know in my position with Memorial Health System.  He was instrumental in the Village Manor Gardens project last year, and now he continues to give more of his time as a mentor to a freshman student by the name of Shelton Holt, who is aspiring to be a Neurosurgeon. 

I just love finding notes, cards, and letters on my desk.  The day I saw the letter from Vernon, I knew before I opened it, that it would make me smile.  He informed me that he was, “developing weekly neurology cases, presenting real-time scenarios including a few factual symptoms for analysis” for a student who was in one of his daughter’s classes.  It was Vernon’s opinion that the accomplishments of this student should be shared; just as any high-scoring basketball player would be front-page news for everyone to read about, and I happen to agree with him!

It took me a minute after reading Vernon’s letter to realize I knew who this young man was.  I worked with his mother, Danielle Holt-Brill, at the start of my career here at Memorial Health System 10 years ago.  It blew my mind that the little boy I used to hear her talk about was now in high school.  How time flies!  I was able to arrange a meeting with Vernon, Shelton, Danielle, and myself where I learned more about how Vernon became Shelton’s mentor.  I would be remiss if I did not mention that this meeting was the first time Vernon and Shelton met in person.  Up to that point, everything they had worked on together was through email.  To say this warmed my heart, to see this introduction take place, is an incredible understatement.  I felt so honored to see these two men, young and old, shake hands for the first time, and listen to them discuss the things they had worked on over the last few months.  I feel even more honored to write this story and share it with you.

Vernon resides at Village Manor with his wife who has dementia.  What I have come to know about him is that his brilliant mind is probably still as strong as the days when he was teaching classes such as:  Anatomy and Physiology (A&P), Zoology, Earth Science, Microbiology, Genetics, Dendrology, Botany, Mammalogy, and Anatomy for the Artist.  If that wasn’t impressive enough, he also served as the Science, Math, and Health Science Division Chairperson for 36 years.

His daughter, Shannon Heintz, does not fall far from the tree.  She currently teaches biology at Abilene High School, and Shelton is one of her students.  When he shared his desire to become a Neurosurgeon with Mrs. Heintz, she just happened to “know a guy” who could help support Shelton’s goal and challenge him beyond the classroom.  “Her exact words were “he is awesome,” explained Vernon, “she asked if I would consent to generate some neurosurgeon problems for him to solve.” 

So far, Vernon has created nine case studies for Shelton.  He started with an easy one, and it only took Shelton two days to solve the case study on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  His mom, Danielle, giggled as she said, “He was so excited to get the first case study that he got on it right away!”

After Vernon realized how smart Shelton was, he decided to make the questions a little harder.  “It takes me a half hour to an hour to make these scenarios and the questions.  You know, I sit there and think, how can I get him on this one!”  We all shared a laugh as we pictured Vernon trying to come up with questions that would stump Shelton.  Now, the case studies are taking Shelton about a week to solve.  The tenth case study has been prepared and it is, “kind of a booger”, Vernon described with a chuckle.

I asked Shelton if there were any case studies so far that he was not able to solve.  “Well, the hardest one so far was Fragile X Syndrome.  I was contemplating between ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), William’s Syndrome, or Fragile X SyndromeI had to ask Mrs. Heintz, ‘which one is it’?

I sat in awe of this young man; his vocabulary far beyond any 14-year-old that I have ever known.  When I asked Shelton if he was able to apply what he had learned so far from the case studies to what he is learning in class, Shelton mentioned, “Recently I heard something about electrophoresis and thought, ‘Oh I know what that is thanks to these case studies’.”  Vernon explained that the case studies are far beyond a freshman class level.

Danielle told us all that while she was taking her A&P and Medical Terminology courses a couple of summers ago, her books would come up missing and she would find them with Shelton.  I asked him if that was around the time he discovered he wanted to be a Neurosurgeon.  He explained, “Shockingly, I used to be disgusted by blood, but then one time when we were watching a medical show, even though it’s fake of course, I was closing my eyes as they were doing the open heart surgery, but I decided to take a peek.  I thought wait, this isn’t even gross at all.  That’s when I decided I wanted to go into medicine.”  Shelton has a few years to make decisions after high school, but right now, he is thinking about the KU School of Medicine. He is certainly on the right track to success.

Starting with the 2023-2024 school year, Abilene High School partnered with Memorial Health System (MHS) to bring a HOSA Chapter into the school with sponsorship through the Kansas Hospital Association (KHA) Foundation Healthworks.  HOSA stands for Health Occupation Students of America.  A scholarship provided the funding for the first three years to begin the HOSA Chapter, and MHS matched the funds.  Shelton is one of Abilene’s first members of HOSA.  On March 27 and 28, a HOSA Conference was held in Manhattan at the Kansas State University campus where Shelton was one of 880 high school students in attendance. He tested in two events; Medical Terminology and Medical Readings.  “I had to read five books where I was tested on all five of them”, he said.  Shelton got second place in the Medical Readings event and he will travel to Texas for the national competition this summer.

This new friendship certainly has the capacity to grow and be beneficial for both of these men.  Vernon has enjoyed creating case study scenarios for Shelton, and he plans to do it for as long as Shelton wants him to.  He explained that doing this for Shelton is giving him something else to do during the day.  “I am learning as I go too”, he said with a chuckle, “I taught A&P but didn’t go into it in this much depth.”

I asked Shelton if there were any topics that he found interesting and would like to see in future case studies that Vernon creates for him, and he told Vernon, “Maybe make some of them from your field; maybe give me some random microbiological ones. It will probably be really hard since that’s your field.”

Sure,” said Vernon, “I would love to do that!”  We all shared another laugh as we watched Vernon’s eyes light up thinking of future case studies he could create.  “Now that I know you, I can make the questions harder!” 

Mrs. Heintz had mentioned her dad’s love of plants to Shelton and he asked to see them while we were there.  The visit ended with a little trip down the hall to Vernon and his wife’s room where we all had a short lesson on several interesting plants including an interesting cactus, a plant whose leaves give it the nickname “Swiss cheese plant” and another that resembles several spiders with long legs.  Shelton was invited back to see Vernon any time. 

As the end of the school year approaches, and summer is just within reach, it is safe to assume that Shelton will be spending his break, unlike most students.  He will be spending time feeding his hungry brain that yearns to know more.  He loves to read.  He and his mom like to visit thrift stores to look for books and he spends a lot of time at the Abilene Public Library.  Medical thrillers and mysteries are among his favorites, “I really like Freida McFadden who writes psychological thrillers and is also a practicing physician who specializes in brain injury.”  Shelton may also find himself visiting Village Manor to see a new friend this summer.






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