Students Observe Heart Surgery

Fifteen heads bent over a skylight window above an operating room at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pa. on Monday, their eyes attentively staring down at the scene below them.

The group of John Marshall High School students watched as Dr. Stephen Bailey, director of the division of cardiac surgery, performed open heart surgery on a patient.

For hours, the students sat transfixed as the surgeon carefully executed each step of a tricky heart bypass surgery.

“I was really excited to see this,” senior Britney Walker said. “This is really interesting to me, since I want to be a nurse.”

John Marshall students in anatomy classes, the school’s nursing assistant program and the Health Sciences and Technology Academy had the rare opportunity Monday to participate in Allegheny Hospital’s open heart surgery observation program, which has attracted over 5,000 students from across the region to view live surgeries since the program’s beginning.

According to coordinator Michele Baumgartel, the program was created to expose more people to the operating room and, hopefully, get students interested in entering the medical field after graduation.

Now more than five years in operation, the program hosts primarily high school students five days a week. Visiting students observe the surgery from beginning to end, which can range from bypass surgeries to heart transplants.

“I think the students are amazed at how deliberate and painstaking the surgery is,” Baumgartel said. “It’s usually not what they think it’s going to be.”

In addition to simply observing, the students also get a review of the heart anatomy and learn the havoc the use of an intravenous drug use can do to the heart, veins and lungs.

“This is a real world experience for them,” Kathleen Loughman, science teacher at JMHS, said. “It’s a great opportunity for students to see this surgery and maybe they’ll understand the importance of retaining knowledge from the classroom for the future.”

Loughman said many of the students at the observation are interested in going into medical-related fields such as occupational therapy, physical therapy or nursing.