Baldwin students observe open heart surgery
By Laura Van Wert
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
A dozen pairs of eyes steadfastly stared 20 feet below the observation glass into the operating room at Allegheny General Hospital on Jan. 16.
For three hours, conversation was at a minimum from the Baldwin High School juniors and seniors. Most discussions were whispered observations.
“Could you imagine doing this for four hours?” said one of the students. “I find the human body fascinating.”
Baldwin High School partners with Allegheny General Hospital's Cardiovascular Institute up to three times a year to let students in the gifted program, or anatomy and physiology and advanced biology classes observe open-heart surgery. The observations are meant to give students a better idea of how the body works and as exposure to medical procedures and professions, said Debbie Reynolds, gifted coordinator at Baldwin High School.
“I just think it's good for them to be exposed,” Reynolds said. “I think it's a fantastic program.”
Reynolds connected Baldwin High School's science department with Pat Wolf, who coordinates the open heart surgery observation program at Allegheny General Hospital in PIttsburgh, five years ago, Reynolds said.
“They had just started letting kids come and watch,” she said.
That first year, more than 100 Baldwin High School students were able to observe open-heart surgeries. The program has since become popular with schools around the region, requiring Baldwin teachers to scale back the number of groups and choose students for the trip by a lottery.
“It's pretty competitive at this point,” said Sarah Lyle, anatomy and physiology teacher at Baldwin High School, who along with Reynolds and Kent Radomsky, biology teacher, supervise the field trips.
“Some of them have been waiting since their freshman year.”
Students agree with the popularity and competition to be selected.
“It just is so interesting. They have his life in their hands right now,” said Tiffany Koch, a senior. “We all try. There are just the lucky few that get picked.”
On Jan. 16, Dr. Walter McGregor, a cardiac surgeon, along with several cardiothoracic residents, anesthesiologists, nurses, physicians assistants and technologists, performed an aortic-valve replacement and coronary bypass on a man in his 80s. Lyle and 13 students observed the surgery while looking through glass windows into the operating room.
They watched as McGregor removed a vein from the patient's left leg for the bypass and the operating team created an alternative circulatory system for blood, stopped the heart, removed valves, worked on the heart, restarted it and closed the chest.
There is more unspoken teamwork in the operating room than the students said they'd imagined.
“It really is a team effort,” Wolf said.
Wolf asked the students questions throughout the observation, such as why is the blood darker at some points. The group also passed around a model of the heart so that Wolf and Lyle could point out different things throughout the procedure.
The observation is a way for the students to see real-life procedures and medical professions and debunk myths that the teens see on television, Lyle said.
Lyle will teach her students a unit on the cardiovascular system later in the year. The students also will dissect deer hearts.
“It's been nice to see the program grow,” Lyle said. “I just love it when students become engaged.”
Likewise, students said, the surgery was not what they expected.
“I expected it to be more blood and less people in the room,” said Nicole Wilkinson, a senior.
Afterward, McGregor spoke to the students for a few minutes about the procedure, the observation program and his career trajectory.
“It truly is a unique opportunity,” McGregor said.
McGregor said he originally didn't think he would be a surgeon but gravitated toward it because that was where he is most talented.
“You end up being attracted to what you're good at,” McGregor said. “You end up doing what feels right.”
Laura Van Wert is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5814 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Vocal resident banned from all Baldwin-Whitehall district property
- Baldwin officials think outside the pool
- Shredding program set in Pleasant Hills
- Baldwin EMS assistant chief honored for safety
- WJH held drill day before FR incident
- Jefferson Regional volunteers downplay individual achievements
- Thomas Jefferson’s first Mini-THON nets maxi-results
- Baldwin Township charter school plans for enrollment boost
- Baldwin-Whitehall board fires transportation manager
- Baldwin-Whitehall board approves termination of interim cafeteria manager
- Stabbing tragedy prompts districts to re-examine what they would do