Andy Kolpitcke remembers the ill-fated slide as if it happened yesterday, in slow motion. It was the most personal of three major events that determined the course of his life and brought him to the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering.
It was summer baseball before his junior year of high school. A long-time catcher, Kolpitcke loved being involved in every pitch, his analytical mind immersed in the game. But, typical of catchers, “People used to tell me that I should unstrap the elephant and piano from my back while running the bases,” says Kolpitcke, who grew up in Dayton, Ohio. “I was not the most fleet of foot.”
Therefore, his third base coach figured no one would expect Kolpitcke, standing on second, to run. So he gave him the steal sign. Kolpitcke took an extra big lead and went on the pitcher’s first twitch. He dove into third head first, catching a corner of the bag with his left arm, but momentum slid him past the bag while his hand held on, dislocating his shoulder. He let go of the base in pain – out at third, and out of baseball for the season.
“I got the only ambulance ride of my life,” says Kolpitcke, who was lead designer for the Capstone Design Expo winning team, OculoSeal, fall semester. “Looking back on [the injury], it was a neat experience to be exposed to the medical field on such a personal level.”
Kolpitcke plans on making a career of designing medical devices because of what he calls “the three defining moments that came within a year and a half." There was his shoulder injury, and his younger brother had earlier suffered a fractured leg playing soccer. And then, the worst news of all. His father, Ken, was diagnosed with colon cancer, beginning a courageous three-year battle.
Ken, who was an engineer in the automotive industry, died in 2013. So it was a bittersweet if triumphant reunion for the Kolpitcke family at the Georgia Institute of Technology when Andy graduated recently with a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering. Both of his parents are Georgia Tech graduates – Ken in mechanical engineering, Melanie in chemistry. But it Andy’s sudden, back-to-back-to-back experiences with healthcare issues that ultimately sent Kolpitcke packing for Atlanta.
“My experiences with sports injuries and my dad’s battle with cancer definitely thrust me into the medical field,” Kolpitcke says. “I was interested in anatomy and physiology in high school, but wasn’t sure about my major at first. I knew at the end of the day that I wanted to use my knowledge and skills to help patients. I wanted to be in a medical field.”
His father’s fight against cancer gave him an understanding of humanity that opened his mind and revealed his path. “Watching him fight the disease provided me with motivation to help other people and other families not experience the pain of surgery, disease, and other medical conditions,” Kolpitcke says. “More importantly, he and my mom provided me with amazing opportunities and support and encouragement while growing up. I wouldn’t be where I am without them.”
He had medical school aspirations, but co-op work experiences in research and development at Ethicon Endo Surgery in Cincinnati, made him realize that he’d rather be the guy creating solutions and devices than the one using the solutions and devices. Working three semesters in product development and a fourth in pre-clinical R&D, he was hooked. Following graduation he’ll take a few months off then begin his career as assistant design engineer at Ethicon (a minimally invasive surgical device company under the Johnson & Johnson umbrella).
“I’m looking forward to further developing my technical skills and designing innovative surgical devices that improve patient care and outcomes for people around the world,” says Kolpitcke, who recently won a BME Leadership Award for ‘Outstanding Industrial Work Experience.’ “Before I get started, though, I hope to have a little down time to travel, play a lot of softball, and umpire youth baseball games.”
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