Antonio Camacho-Hernandez

Antonio Camacho-HernandezAntonio Camacho-Hernandez

University of Arizona freshman Antonio Camacho-Hernandez discovered his professional calling after rushing into a situation most people try to avoid.

Camacho-Hernandez was spending the summer before his senior year of high school shadowing his aunt, an ER doctor, at a hospital in Texas. He was helping with some paperwork one day when a bell sounded for a “code blue” emergency. Camacho-Hernandez followed his aunt into a room that soon filled with more than 30 doctors and nurses working to save the patient’s life.

“It was crazy and overwhelming but eye-opening,” Camacho-Hernandez recalled. “It’s something that will always stick with me, because I wanted to be able to help but couldn’t. It made me realize what I want to do.”

The experience helped Camacho-Hernandez decide to major in microbiology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. His goal is to continue to medical school and become an ER doctor; in the meantime, he plans on joining the campus EMS (emergency medical services) program.

“In the ER, you’re actually with the patient, calming them down, helping them out,” said Camacho-Hernandez, who also did an internship in the cardiovascular ICU at Banner University Medical Center during his senior year at Cienega High School in Vail, Ariz. “It’s the most immediate way to help people there is.”

Motivated by KEYS Internship

This past summer, Camacho-Hernandez was selected to participate in a UA BIO5 Institute KEYS Research Internship. He worked in Dr. Kristen Limesand’s lab in the nutritional sciences department, helping her team find a cure for post-chemoradiation dry mouth in head-and-neck cancer patients.

The lab environment was completely different from the chaos and tension of the emergency room or ICU, but the research and time management skills he developed were invaluable.

“The internship was good for a lot of reasons but the biggest one was motivation,” Camacho-Hernandez said. “It was exhausting, and you’d think you wouldn’t want to do it anymore, but it really just pushes you. I was able to produce maybe three times more what I thought I’d be able to do.”

Camacho-Hernandez said the first week of the KEYS (Keep Engaging Youth in Science) Internship is called training week, when participants go through a rigorous program designed to familiarize them with basic lab techniques. It also required nightly homework, meaning the interns sometimes had 16-hour days.

“The students liked to call it hell week,” Camacho-Hernandez said.

Once he settled into his project in the Limesand Lab, Camacho-Hernandez found the work “very satisfying.”

“I didn’t know what to expect going in there; I had a general idea and knew I wanted to be in a lab,” he said. “My main interest was medicine, and I was able to do something relative to it. Basically, the lab is looking to restore the salivary gland function in post-radiation therapy patients, to restore damage.”

Limesand has been involved with the Keys Internship Program for a decade, and hopes that students—who are either entering their senior year of high school or freshman year of college—can find out if they enjoy research while also having some fun.

“They’re giving up their summer,” Limesand said. “You want them to gain something out of it. I think for Antonio, he came in very excited about doing the work and through the seven weeks, he became more patient to work to the end; he (realized), ‘It’s OK to slow down for a moment and take it all in and think about what you’re doing.’”

From micro to music

When Camacho-Hernandez isn’t in a lab or learning about microorganisms, he’s using a completely different part of his brain. An accomplished piano and trumpet player, he is minoring in music.

Camacho-Hernandez’ favorite composer is Chopin, whose challenging piece “Fantasie-Impromptu” he played for one of his first recitals in the UA music program.

“My parents have had me in piano lessons since I was 7, so music seemed like the most logical thing to do,” he said. “It seems like it would make no sense but it’s something I always want to do. I use music as a buffer from all my other classes. It’s a stress reliever, not a stress inducer.”

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