Model of Collaboration: Merging Sculpture and Medicine

Published on February 4th, 2014 | by By Dawn K. Waters

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It’s easy to imagine a collaboration between a doctor and a medical student, but an art student? Not so much. That is, until you meet Morgan Yacoe and learn what she can do.

When Virginia Commonwealth University surgeons set out to separate a set of conjoined twins, they called on Yacoe, then a junior at the number-one ranked VCUarts sculpture program. Yacoe’s task: to cast a medical mold of the twins.

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When Virginia Commonwealth University surgeons set out to separate a set of conjoined twins, they called on Morgan Yacoe, then a junior at the number-one ranked VCUarts sculpture program. Yacoe’s task: to cast a medical mold of the twins. Today collaboration continues between VCU Medicine and VCUarts to find ways to merge sculpture and medicine.

The surgeons realized that planning for this challenging operation required a detailed medical model that replicated the precise shape of the twins themselves. Furthermore, this model needed to duplicate the twins’ skin as well as their shape. Nothing like this had been done before.

In collaboration with Dr. Jennifer Rhodes, a reconstructive plastic surgeon and director of Center of Craniofacial Care at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, Yacoe provided the model, complete with a skin-like outer surface. Yacoe’s model was a crucial part of the operation’s success—so much so that surgeons tapped Yacoe again a year later. This time she was asked to cast the model for an even more complex surgery involving another set of conjoined twins.

“If you think about it, plastic surgeons are—among other things—sculptors.”

In addition to her work with conjoined twins, Yacoe is also completing a number of sculpture commissions. She continues to work directly with plastic surgery residents and attending physicians to develop models to simulate surgery outside the operating room.

As a sculptor who happens to have a strong interest in medicine, Yacoe has found the perfect creative outlet. The industrious and charming young woman has a way of making things happen. For example, in another collaboration with Dr. Rhodes, she follows through on the idea that plastic surgery residents can benefit from learning sculpting skills. To accomplish this, Yacoe designed and teaches a series of traditional figure sculpting workshops that allow VCU plastic surgery residents to observe and replicate the human form in three dimensions to help them improve their understanding of the body. If you think about it, plastic surgeons are—among other things—sculptors.

Yacoe collaborates with VCU Medicine and VCUarts to continue finding ways to merge sculpture and medicine. Rhodes and Yacoe have even co-published a peer-reviewed paper on their medical sculpture method in the prestigious Journal of Craniofacial Surgery. They have also shown their work as a poster presentation at the American Society for Plastic Surgery Annual Meeting in New Orleans. This spring, they will present their most recent medical model construction method at the American Association of Plastic Surgeons’ annual meeting in Miami.

Closer to home, Richmonders can get a behind-the-scenes look at the medical molds and the role they played, as an exhibition with documentation of Yacoe’s groundbreaking work is scheduled for fall 2014 at the historic VCUarts Depot building, currently under renovation on Broad Street between Harrison and Belvidere. Formerly known as the Richmond Glass building, it will house a gallery for VCUarts student work throughout the year.

 

 

 

 

 

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