New pediatric neurosurgeon inspired by her patients’ determination to get better

Carolina Sandoval-Garcia, MD

The Pediatric Neurosurgery Department at the U of M Masonic Children’s Hospital is excited to announce the recent addition of neurosurgeon and Assistant Professor Carolina Sandoval-Garcia, MD.

Although a native of Colombia, Sandoval-Garcia is by no means new to the upper Midwest. She completed her residency in Neurological Surgery at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison, where she won the 2016 Resident Academic Achievement Award. Just before coming to Minnesota, Sandoval-Garcia completed a year-long fellowship in pediatric neurosurgery at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, FL.

Interested in pediatric epilepsy surgery
“My fellowship was very busy clinically,” said Sandoval-Garcia. “The hospital served a unique population that included many international patients.” While there, she explored in-depth her interest in pediatric epilepsy surgery. “That ended up being one of the best aspects of my training,” she noted. Another aspect of the fellowship that appealed to Sandoval-Garcia was the hospital’s strong social mission and medical work in Haiti. “I was able to travel a couple of times to Port Au Prince to help train a local resident and treat hydrocephalus in children,” she said.

Pediatric neurosurgery was especially attractive to Sandoval-Garcia because caring for children when she was in training was “particularly gratifying. They are the most resilient patient population,” she said. “Their unique strength and determination to get better motivated me to push myself further as I cared for them.”

That meant enduring long, taxing hours and sacrificing time away from her loved ones. “I could do that because I was genuinely engaged and challenged by my work,” explained Sandoval-Garcia. “I find the wide range of treatable conditions in pediatric neurosurgery to be especially appealing and stimulating.”

Katie Roberts, RN, MSN; Carolina Sandoval-Garcia, MD; Cornelius Lam, MD, PhD; Leah Kann, RN, CPNP; and Director Daniel Guillaume, MD, MS

Sandoval-Garcia is part of a dedicated Pediatric Neurosurgery team at the U of M that includes (from left) Katie Roberts, RN, MSN; Sandoval-Garcia, MD; Cornelius Lam, MD, PhD; Leah Kann, RN, CPNP; and Director Daniel Guillaume, MD, MS.

Dynamic, supportive environment
Sandoval-Garcia was attracted to the U of M by the prospect of a career in academic pediatric neurosurgery, “in a department with great faculty and residents,” she said. “The U provides significant opportunities for early career development within a dynamic and supportive environment. I feel they foster collaboration and partnerships in a multidisciplinary environment…all of which aligns well with my interests in research and outreach.”

Part of her residency was spent working for a month at AIC Kijabe Medical Center in Kenya under the mentorship of Leland Albright, MD, who had taught Sandoval-Garcia in Madison. He has worked with the African hospital for more than a decade providing much needed pediatric neurosurgical services and teaching residents and fellows.

“It was an incredibly rewarding and intense experience,” said Sandoval-Garcia. “I learned a little Swahili, so I could communicate on a basic level with my patients and their families. The experience helped me become a little more resourceful and taught me to think outside the box. I really liked it. It inspired me to combine my own practice with spending some time practicing and teaching in underserved areas around the world.”

Emulating mentors
Teaching was an important part of Sandoval-Garcia’s training in Miami and her international work and she looks forward to working with the U’s neurosurgical residents. “Because I had good mentors, I hope to emulate that in my own practice,” she said. “I want to serve as a good, reliable guide for our neurosurgery residents in both surgery and research.”

Being able to combine a busy clinical practice with research initiatives excites Sandoval-Garcia. Her research will emphasize her clinical interests in conditions such as epilepsy, vascular pathology, and hydrocephalus. “My previous work focused on image-based initiatives,” she said. “To extend and add to that work, I hope to establish multidisciplinary collaborations with other departments, primarily neurology, radiology, and the U’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research.”

Sandoval-Garcia attended medical school at the University Colegio Mayor de Nuestra Senora del Rosario in Bogota, Colombia. “My family, except for my husband, is all there,” she said. “I am the oldest of three daughters. My dad is a pilot and my mom is a designer working mostly in advertising. My sisters took after them – one is an aeronautical engineer and the other is a graphic designer.” Her husband is a former orthopedic surgeon who switched careers and became a historian. He is currently a Professor at University of Wisconsin – Madison where they met during her residency.

It may not be surprising to learn that when Sandoval-Garcia has time away from work, she enjoys traveling. She also enjoys spending time with her husband and cats, reading, running, playing basketball and tennis, watching movies and listening to music.