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Former Towson lacrosse starter Tyler Konen eager to move from med school to front lines in coronavirus fight

Tyler Konen, seen during practice prior to the 2017 NCAA Division I men's lacrosse semifinals, graduated from Towson in 2017 and is currently wrapping up his second year at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in Lewisburg, W.V.
Tyler Konen, seen during practice prior to the 2017 NCAA Division I men's lacrosse semifinals, graduated from Towson in 2017 and is currently wrapping up his second year at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in Lewisburg, W.V. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

The first time Tyler Konen broke his right arm — “in half,” as he described it — while playing tag at the age of 10, he was transported to the emergency room of a local hospital in Bridgewater, New Jersey. And that is when he was struck by an aspiration to become a doctor.

“I just really admired how they were on top of everything,” Konen, now 25, said. “They weren’t panicked at all. I was a little kid sitting there with my arm bent in half and didn’t know what was up, and they just came in and were like, ‘No worries. We’re going to fix that right up for you. We’ve got this handled. Don’t worry about anything.’ I always thought that was cool.”

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Konen, a former attackman for the Towson men’s lacrosse program, is working toward realizing his childhood dream. He is wrapping up his second year at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in Lewisburg and will begin his clinical rotations at Frederick Health Hospital in Frederick.

The coronavirus pandemic that has contributed to more than 370,000 deaths worldwide and over 6 million positive cases, as of Sunday, has not deterred Konen.

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“It’s always in the back of your mind, but this is the job you signed up for,” he said. “That comes along with the job, and you have to accept that fact.”

Konen’s determination is not surprising to Tigers coach Shawn Nadelen, who recalled Konen making it clear while he was in high school that he wanted to become a doctor.

“Tyler’s always been a team-first guy, and we’ve known since we started recruiting him that medicine was going to be his passion and his career,” Nadelen said. “For him to do that, there’s obviously concern and worry as I am for all of the medical people out there battling on the frontlines. But I feel extremely confident in Tyler jumping into this as he has with everything with all that he has and him pursuing it to the best of his ability to be able to make a real impact and a difference.”

Konen is no stranger to hospitals. According to his mother Nancy, she and her husband, Jeffrey, made between 10 to 15 visits to emergency rooms for their son Tyler, who broke the same right arm as a freshman during lacrosse season at Bridgewater-Raritan High School and then his back as a junior.

Nancy Konen said her son, even at a young age, displayed a remarkable bedside manner. She recalled a then-11-year-old Tyler racing into their house to grab hydrogen peroxide and some gloves to help treat a girl who had fallen off a bike and badly skinned her knees.

“He does have that internal instinct to help people,” she said, adding that her son has been a lifeguard for several years during college. “That’s just who he is.”

Tyler Konen graduated from Towson in 2017 with a bachelor’s in biology and took a gap year, working as a server at a New Jersey restaurant and a runner for a construction company. But he acknowledged that he was somewhat unprepared after enrolling at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in the fall of 2018.

“I went from having all of this free time to sticking to a schedule and keeping things going and knowing that if I stepped out of line, I was going to really fall behind,” he said with a chuckle. “So it took a little bit of getting used to, and I was questioning it, like, ‘Man, is this really worth it?’ But once you get past those first couple of tests and see that you can do it, then you’re like, ‘All right, let’s go ahead and do this thing.’”

Konen said the most difficult curriculum thus far involved cancer and tumorigenesis and the most enjoyable was anatomy. He said the last time he checked, his rolling grade average was an 87.

Nancy Konen said the family has leaned on her son for medical advice. When his 16-year-old sister, Kimber, shattered her left arm during a lacrosse practice in 2019, Tyler helped his parents understand the diagnosis of a depression fracture, the surgical procedure involving screws and plates, and the impending recovery. And when a doctor changed the medication to treat an autoimmune disorder suffered by 20-year-old sister, Tristin, — a junior midfielder for the Montclair State women’s lacrosse team — Tyler did the research and allayed his parents’ fears.

“He’s very upfront and honest with us,” Nancy Konen said. “If he thinks that something is not right, he will say, ‘You need to question that.’ So I find it very comforting.”

Konen will take board exams in about two weeks and has been isolating himself at his family’s beach house in Normandy Beach, New Jersey, away from his parents and three siblings. Then in about four weeks, he will go on his clinical rotations at Frederick Health Hospital, shadowing different doctors in specialties ranging from family medicine to surgery.

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While he does not anticipate being in close quarters with patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 because personal protective equipment has been limited to doctors and nurses, Konen said he is eager to pitch in against the coronavirus.

“You’re trying to figure out how to help people, and that’s the draw,” he said. “Then again, you see how scary it can be for some people and the lives that are affected, and then you have to step back and remind yourself, ‘Maybe this is exciting from a science standpoint, but on a humanistic level, it’s a pretty rough deal.’”

Konen — who is still close with teammates like Arundel graduate Tyler Young and Westminster graduate Ryan Drenner — said he appreciated the discipline he gained from attending 7 a.m. lacrosse workouts.

“It instilled a great work ethic in me, getting up every day, going to the weight room, going out and practicing, dealing with teammates, learning how to successfully communicate and work together as a team,” said Konen, who compiled 23 points on nine goals and 14 assists as a full-time starter for the 2017 squad that advanced to the NCAA Division I tournament semifinals before falling to national runner-up Ohio State. “I think that really helped me heading into med school because I had that work ethic right from the beginning and I knew how to get things done and help people along the way.”

Nadelen said Konen, a left-handed attackman, spent a considerable amount of time after practices developing his right hand and dodging from the midfield. He said Konen could be a perfectionist.

“He was very tough on himself, which I think is a pretty good mindset for somebody in the medical field to have because they may be making life-or-death decisions and if things unfortunately don’t go in a good way, they are going to self-assess and be hard on themselves on how they can figure out a way,” he said. “Tyler was a very determined and driven young man as a lacrosse player and as a student during his time at Towson. I think those qualities will definitely translate to his medical career.”

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