As a boy, resident physician Dr. Mitchell Lyons sometimes thought about becoming an actor or an astronaut.
Lyons was a child actor in his hometown of Atlanta and thought it was cool to get paid for doing something fun. But the more he thought about it, the more he didn’t like the fact that as an actor he’d always be looking for his next job.
He went to space camp four times and enjoyed it, but came to realize astronauts weren’t rocketed into space all that often.
Besides, the way Lyons looked at it as he grew older, neither actors nor astronauts were in a profession that could directly transform lives the way a plastic surgeon such as Dr. Fernando Burstein could.
“He was my sister’s craniofacial surgeon,” said Lyons, now in his second year of a plastic surgery residency at the UNLV School of Medicine. “He was the director of the Center for Craniofacial Disorders at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta that has changed so many children’s lives for the better. He changed the course of my life. I looked up to him and watched as he would talk to my parents about my sister’s surgeries.”
Early Life Lesson
Lyons was just 8 years old and excited that he was about to see his newborn sister when he learned that sometimes babies are born with birth defects.
“The first thing my father told me was, ‘Your sister looks different, but you’re going to love her,’” Lyons recalled. “When I went into the room with my mom and saw my sister, she had a hole in her face. I later learned this was a congenital deformity called cleft lip and palate.”
Lyon’s sister, Grace, would undergo more than 20 surgeries to repair the problem. Lyons said Grace grew up to be a confident young woman, one who played varsity college lacrosse on an athletic scholarship. An honors graduate, she will enter her first year of law school this fall.
“My passion is to improve my patients’ quality of life as well,” Lyons said. “I love seeing my patients healed and living their lives.“
Lyons had just entered high school when he decided to become a doctor.
“I came home one day after high school and told my mom, ‘I want to be a craniofacial surgeon.’ At the time, she told me to follow my dreams. Now she tells me after I left her office she had a big laugh. At this time in my life, I was not the best student. I spent a lot of time on skateboards and my parents didn’t think I was even going to get into college. It’s fun to look back on it now.”
Lyons graduated from the University of Colorado, where he majored in integrative physiology. He’d earn his MD from the State University New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University, becoming a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honors Medical Society along the way. At the UNLV School of Medicine, he’s in the second year of a demanding six-year residency program.
Rotations Offer Breadth of Learning
During his residency here in Las Vegas, Lyons said he will have the opportunity to work on a variety of cases.
“We are lucky. We truly do it all here.
“On one given day, we have a cranioplasty in the morning with Dr. (John) Menezes, our craniofacial surgeon, (and) distal radius fractures and other various hand traumas in the afternoon with Dr. (Ashley) Pistorio, our hand surgeon,” Lyons said. “This is all while Dr. (Richard) Baynosa is doing bilateral DIEP flaps for breast reconstruction, or Dr. (Joshua) Goldman is raising a free fibula with ENT (ear, nose, and throat) for a segmental mandibular resection, or Dr. (John) Brosious is doing a plethora of transgender surgeries.”
Lyons said during his first two years of residency he has rotated in different areas: trauma surgery, trauma ICU, surgical oncology, transplant and vascular surgery, orthopedic surgery, burn surgery, ENT, and through the emergency medicine department. “I believe I can learn something from everybody I work with. The more you put in, the more you will get out of it.”
When COVID-19 shut down elective surgeries, Lyons volunteered to take calls from people hoping to participate in UNLV Medicine’s curbside testing for the virus. “Taking my time talking with these patients helped calm them down and it also helped me discuss matters with patients. That is going to be important with the rise of telemedicine.”
If he had his way, Lyons said, his career as a plastic surgeon would be evenly split between reconstructive surgery and cosmetic surgery. “But these practices are hard to find,” he admitted.
An avid cyclist (after an interview on a Sunday morning he hurried off to bike with his girlfriend), Lyons planned, promoted, and executed medical support for New York City’s first mountain bike race series in 2015-16.
As a resident who can work up to 80 hours a month, Lyons said he doesn’t have much time for leisure activities. “Work-life balance can be challenging as a resident. There are many people pulling you different ways at work and at home. I feel like I am always disappointing someone in my life — the friend I forgot to call back, the wedding I missed, the birthday I missed. I still have some time to myself for exercise and activities, but it’s not like my non-medical friends.”
Lyons doesn’t like to see people unable to afford health care. “I believe we need a universal health care system or a one-payer system. Our ‘affordable health care’ can be upwards of $400-$500 a month with a $5,000 copay. That is not affordable,” he said.
“As people lost their jobs with the pandemic they also lost their health care, so now we see that tying your health care with your job isn’t the best either. The health care system is hard enough for us doctors to navigate. For a patient, I believe they see it as a web of nightmares.”