Louisville Medicine Volume 65, Issue 8 - Page 33

MEMBERS only gave me the second year!” Opportunity struck again months later. Dr. Endean called Dr. Ajkay to his office. One of the categorical interns was leaving to pursue anesthesiology. The position was Dr. Ajkay’s, finally. But officialdom soon came crashing down. When he tried to extend his visa, the US State Department instead denied Dr. Ajkay an ex- tension and told him he needed to return to Colombia. “In November of 2004, I packed and left to go back to Bogota. Jennifer stayed behind. I went and started begging for jobs. I didn’t have a credit history in Colombia so they wouldn’t even lend me money for a car. I found jobs, and in three months was working as a plastic surgeon at three different hospitals, all through public transportation.” Six months later, he got the call. He could return to the United States, his wife, and his third year of general surgery residency. But, he was now abandoning his home country for a second time. “I left and people were really upset with me. They told me that if I returned they wouldn’t accept me because I was a flight risk. Some to this day don’t talk to me. It’s unfortunate, but I needed to go back and join my wife and finish my program.” The future was brighter and the opportunities clearer when Dr. Ajkay returned. He finished his training at the University of Ken- tucky and was required for his visa to practice in an underserved area. car. His wife became a widow with little children. That incident for me was a wake-up call that maybe I needed to use my knowledge to try to stay in the United States,” Dr. Ajkay said gravely. Prospering in Virginia, Dr. Ajkay met and fell in love with a circulating nurse at the pediatric hospital where he completed his fellowship. “Jennifer was the first person I met in the Unit- ed States and we’ve now been together 17 years,” he said. “This is the cheesiest story ever but we were at her apartment and I began playing Colombian music. Dancing in Colombia is very popular. You don’t show up at a party by yourself. You have to go as a cou- ple because you’re going to be dancing. Jennifer could not only dance but she could follow. In Latin music, the man leads and the woman follows. I knew then, ‘I need to marry this woman’. What else could I do?” The couple wed in 2003 with Dr. Ajkay’s parents traveling from Colombia for the ceremony. In his professional life, things were not so smooth. Dr. Ajkay knew he had to apply to general surgery if he wanted to be a plastic surgeon, but foreign medical graduates are not a hot commodity for training programs. One of Dr. Magee’s partners in Virginia had trained at the University of Kentucky and helped secure a 1-year preliminary position for Dr. Ajkay. General surgery is a 5-year program. “My first year at UK was stressful. I didn’t know where I’d be in a year’s time. Then one day, I’m walking through the VA hospital in Lexington and the general surgery residency director, Dr. Eric Endean, was coming. He’s a man of few words. He stopped me and asked, ‘What are you doing next year?’ I said I didn’t have a job, and he told me he needed a second-year preliminary resident and for me to re-apply. I was a resident again as a second year, but they He and his wife moved to Pikeville in Eastern Kentucky. They had two children, Nicolas and Gabriela, and lived there for five years. “It was a nice professional experience. We lived close to the hospital, Pikeville Medical Center. Initially, I could have lunch with my wife almost daily. When our son was born, I took two weeks to be with her. When I came back, the practice had explod- ed with patients. I was super busy,” Dr. Ajkay said. “Winter time was tough though. There was not much to do. I remember some nights we’d go to K-Mart to let the kids play in the aisles of toys. We started to think we needed to move to a larger city.” The couple saved money and moved to a tiny house in Phil- adelphia for Dr. Ajkay to complete a one year breast surgical on- cology fellowship in 2013. It was a brief layover though, as he was already applying to jobs and planning for the future. In December of that year, the University of Louisville offered Dr. Ajkay a position in breast surgical oncology. His journey from student to physician had finally reached a conclusion. In 2014, the family relocated one last time, at least for now. He is currently assistant Professor of Surgery at the University of Louisville and the Director of the Multidisciplinary Breast Cancer Clinic at the James Brown Cancer Center. “My wife works as a nurse practitioner with Norton’s hospital palliative care team. My kids go to Goshen elementary in Pros- pect, and love their school. My surgical partners have been very supportive of my family and career. I take care of wonderful peo- ple, and I get to share my experiences with students, residents and fellows. I’m not going anywhere else.” Aaron Burch is the communications specialist for the Greater Louisville Medical Society. JANUARY 2018 31