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Greensburg-Salem students explore the real world of medicine

| Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, 9:54 p.m.

It's easy to see that Greensburg Salem Senior High School biology teacher Andrea Redinger takes her job educating students — and keeping their attention — seriously. For a recent lesson on suturing fetal pigs, she wore dangling pink pig earrings.

Each year since its inception in 2005, she adds more to the advanced BioTechnology class she oversees to help prepare students for science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, careers.

New this year was the suturing lesson conducted by Dr. Richard Payha, a general surgeon for Excela Health who teaches at Seton Hill University in Greensburg and serves on Greensburg Salem's school board.

“I'm also learning so much doing this,” said Redinger, who is eight months pregnant with her third child. “Health care is a field that is constantly changing, and an expert is needed to provide the latest information.

“The students are coming in at 7 a.m., before school, on a voluntary basis, on their own time. It's a big thing to get seniors out of bed that early,” she said of Payha's class.

Payha checked students dissection work, which detailed the different systems of the body, and provided details on the similarities between the fetal pig and human bodies.

“The students are really good with suturing. For them to be so interested is gratifying,” said Payha, who related well with the class of nine girls and four boys, all seniors.

For his first question during the Dec. 20 class, he asked them to describe any gross trauma on their subjects.

Payha stressed the realities of his career, from the intensive training required to how important it is to know each and every tool that can be needed for surgery.

Also instructing the class was Andrea Altieri, a physician assistant who works for a general surgery group. She demonstrated basic stitches necessary for different wounds and the variety of materials used for sutures.

“This is dexterous work and most kids are adept because of video games,” said Altieri, whose family owns the Parkwood Restaurant. She and Payha went from group to group, watching and demonstrating knots.

A large box of various suturing materials, clamps and curved needles were all donated by Excela Health, Payha said. The materials were leftovers from the closure of Jeannette District Memorial Hospital.

Toward the end of the lesson, Redinger asked a few of the student groups to teach her how to close the fetal pig. She said that having a student give the lesson is the best way for her to know that they are learning.

“The kids eat this up,” said high school Principal David Zilli, who stopped in to observe the unusual sight of thoroughly inspected fetal pigs. “They get right in there, don't they? And they are sharing ideas with professionals.”

In addition, the students each designed a heart valve to be evaluated by Dr. Dennis Trumble of Allegheny General Hospital and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

“The students were not allowed to research existing heart valves and were given a box of allowed materials to use in bioengineering their own working heart valve,” Redinger said.

“Two had really innovative designs that Dr. Trumble said no one had ever approached from that angle. So he's learning from the kids, too. This activity was the least favorite at first, but became the most rewarding,” she said.

The students have also shadowed a cardiologist on rounds and viewed testing procedures. The intense lessons culminate on Jan. 4, when they will observe open heart surgery at Allegheny General on the North Side.

“These students also are prepared for the reality of life,” Redinger said. “The surgery may be cancelled, or the patient may expire on the table. And they learned how this person came to be on this table and opened up.”

Dr. Afghar Fakhri, a cardiologist with Excela Health, said he enjoyed his first experience being shadowed by the students and would participate again.

“It's important for people in my field to be involved in the community and to encourage youth,” Fakhri said. “These students see a stress test and learn about the type of information we gather.

“Mrs. Redinger taught them about the heart and they were able to ask very good questions. I think the students were very excited to get some experience about what they were learning in class and the real world,” he said.

Students previously observed Allison Vietmeier, 27, a cardiovascular technician at Excela Health, work with heart catheterizations and monitor patients. She said exposure is important.

“I think it's good for them to get in here and see these kinds of procedures and to know all the different fields available in health care now,” Vietmeier said.

Redinger said her students learn how the heart functions, what the tests show and how they are done. This is the first year she is collaborating with Excela Health.

When she initiated the first BioTechnology class, Redinger used contacts from her pre-teaching career, when she was involved in pathology research at the University of Pittsburgh.

Many students in her current class are interested in the medical field.

“I want to be a vet,” said Tina Santone, a senior from South Greensburg who is debating whether to continue her education at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Pennsylvania State University's Beaver campus or St. Vincent College in Unity.

“I will be studying something medical, but I'm not sure yet,” said Zack Bortot of Delmont, who will attend Westmoreland Community College near Youngwood for the first two years.

“This class is good, especially if you're going into the medical field,” said Nola Ries of Delmont, who has been accepted for nursing school. “I'm deciding on going to Gannon University, Robert Morris University or Waynesburg University.”

“I am planning to be a paramedic or nurse for a medical helicopter,” said Brittany Schaller of Southwest Greensburg, whose family is in the bakery business. “I really want to attend the Coast Guard Academy or Seton Hill.”

Rose Domenick is a freelance writer.

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