Curiosity leads student to intersection of engineering and medicine

Meredith Stadnyk sees her iron ring as a means to help patients

Mifi Purvis - 09 June 2017

(Edmonton) It started with a skeleton. Meredith Stadnyk (Civil [Co-op] '17) went to see Marwan El-Rich, her supervisor in a structural analysis course.

"I went during office hours and I noticed this spine in his office and I'm like, 'That's kind of weird.' I asked him about it and he told me he did research in biomechanics. I thought it was interesting and I approached him later to do a co-op term. That's kind of how it started."

Stadnyk's curiosity eventually led her to a robust undergraduate research project that may result in better success in hip replacement surgery. "We worked with surgeons who brought us a problem. They wanted to measure the pelvic tilt of a hip-replacement patient on an operating table," Stadnyk explains.

Surgeons typically approach hip replacements as if every pelvis were tilted at the same angle, and align the cup and the ball of the implant in roughly the same way. "But what we found is that patients actually have quite a variation," Stadnyk says. "And the way the pelvis is tilted will actually impact the way the implant works."

If the pelvic tilt is too horizontal it negatively impacts the movement of the hip. But if the tilt is too vertical, it increases the likelihood of dislocation. "We're trying to quantify a way to measure that pelvic tilt and improve the surgery," Stadnyk says.

The long-term result maybe better outcomes in hip replacements. The short-term result was that Stadnyk-then still an undergrad-went to Lyons, France last July to deliver a podium presentation at the European Society of Biomechanics. "It was definitely intimidating," she says. "I was presenting there with master's students, PhDs, postdocs and their professors. I'm actually lucky enough to go back-it's in Seville this year-to present a different project."

In the fall, Stadnyk is starting a master's degree at the U of A, and she's just ironing out the details.

A lifelong club soccer player, she first became interested in medicine and biomechanics when she tore her ACL. "It was interesting to see what the orthopedics doctors do," she says. Stadnyk is now a volunteer in the emergency department at Edmonton's Royal Alexandra Hospital.

"Basically, I meet people on their worst day and try to make it a little better," she says. "It's an amazing place and patients there are from all walks of life."

Frequent volunteer gigs have landed her with Toastmasters, DiscoverE, a community association, and with the Engineering Students' Society. "The ESS gave me a great opportunity to be a leader in the faculty," she says. Another volunteer position sat squarely at the intersection of engineering and medicine.

She travelled last August to volunteer with a program called Help, Learn & Discover. It is geared towards people interested in medicine. The three components included touring Ecuador, working in a hospital to take patient histories and vitals, and finally building houses in Jama, Ecuador, for families displaced by earthquake damage.

"We fundraised ahead of time and brought that money to purchase the supplies to build the houses," Stadnyk explained. Then her group worked to solve the problem alongside local people. It was as exhilarating as it was tiring.

"The reason I went into engineering in the first place is I love math and physics problems," she says. "By fluke I found this professor that's doing research on something I thought was cool. If you'd told me in first year that I'd do undergrad research I would be 'No-are you serious?' Engineering and medicine are not as different as you might think. There are familiar concepts-the analytical thinking and problem solving applies to both."