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Armstrong students view open heart surgery

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By Tim Karan
Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

For one day, at least, a group of local high school students could describe class with the phrase “heart-stopping.”

Fourteen AP biology and enrichment students from Armstrong School District were invited to watch open heart surgery at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh last week as part of the hospital's Open Heart Surgery Observation program.

The program, which kicked off in 2008, has hosted classes from more than 70 school districts in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, along with groups from local nursing schools and universities.

Program coordinator Pat Wolf said more than 5,000 students have witnessed operations through the initiative during the past four years.

“Students observe an open heart surgery from the enclosed observation deck which overlooks the operating room,” said Wolf.

“I remain with the students, explaining the procedure and answering questions. Often a member of the surgical team will also come up and talk with them about what they've seen and answer questions about their various careers.”

In fact, aside from promoting healthy living to students, Wolf said the program exists as a way to draw student interest in health related jobs.

“The benefit of the program, we hope, is an increased awareness of careers in medicine,” said Wolf.

“(It's a) ‘real life' look at what these (jobs) involve.”

And if you talk to any of the ASD students, many of whom were already interested in pursuing health careers, the program clearly works.

“It made me want to be involved in the medical field when I graduate,” said Courtney Slagle, 17, of Boggs.

“Now I realize how important doctors are and the challenges they face in the operating room.”

In addition to a possible career path, many of the students said the experience provided a profound new perspective.

“It was more real than anything I've seen on TV,” said Ciara Johnson, 17, of Kittanning.

“Seeing the heart pumping and watching the hospital staff work together made me realize how much time and experience it takes (to perform) surgery. When the heart skipped a beat, so did mine.”

Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303 or

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