WINCHESTER — While most kids enjoy watching cartoons, Ryan Baer liked to watch surgical procedures on TV when he was growing up.

Baer, 18, who graduates from Millbrook High School at 6 p.m. today, has always wanted to work in medicine. And he says his time at Millbrook helped him discover that he wants to pursue pediatric neurosurgery.

There are only about 300 pediatric neurosurgeons in the United States, according to Baer.

“This high school’s given me the opportunity to see exactly what I want to do in a medical career,” Baer said.

Following graduation, Baer will head to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City to study biomedical engineering specializing in neuroengineering. Following that, he plans to go to medical school.

Baer admits he’s lived a very fortunate life, but through an internship at Winchester Medical Center he has witnessed death, patients involved in car crashes, a father receiving a brain cancer diagnosis and surgeries that didn’t go exactly as planned, all through the school’s Gifted Independent Study program that enabled him to shadow a neurosurgeon. In the operating room, he has been able to observe surgeries from about two feet away, and he has been able to hold pieces of tumors that have just been extracted.

The experiences have made him want to help patients and give them the best care possible.

For a doctor, that sometimes means lessening a person’s pain at the end of their life when nothing else can be done to save them.

“You can’t always fix what’s going to happen to them,” Baer said. “As long as I know that I did my best, then there’s nothing else that can be done.”

Baer grew up in a very empathetic family, said his mother, Kim Baer, and she wonders how her son is able to control his emotions in dire circumstances. When he almost lost his grandmother due to complications from surgery, Baer admits he “lost it” emotionally. Luckily, she survived, and he said he’s very grateful to still have her in his life, since she is one of his biggest support systems.

Baer is very independent and self-motivated, his mother said. He will know no one when he goes to the University of Utah. And his own interests have influenced his interest in medicine.

“Ryan is a mature, intelligent and personable student,” said Millbrook Principal Joanne Altendorf.

Baer has been involved in a variety of activities during his four years at Millbrook. He played on the school’s varsity tennis team his first two years and then managed the girl’s volleyball team his junior and senior years. He also performed in the school band, playing French horn for three years. In his free time, Baer is an avid skier.

He worked as a teacher’s assistant mentoring second-grade students at Redbud Run Elementary School. Working with younger students has helped Baer better understand how they think while also learning more about how they deal with emotions.

For Baer, if he can help make at least one child’s life better as a pediatric neurosurgeon, that’s all that matters.

“How I look at neurosurgery, it’s a game you have to win every time,” he said.

— Contact Anna Merod at amerod@winchesterstar.com

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