NEW CASTLE —
Someday, Rachael Baker aspires to enter the medical field, possibly as a physician’s assistant.
So, the Laurel High School junior was enthused to be part of a small group that observed an aortic valve replacement at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.
Students from the gifted programs at Laurel and Lincoln high schools participated in the unique opportunity — the Open-Heart Surgery Observation program of the Gerald McGinnis Cardiovascular Institute at the hospital.
The procedure was done on a man in his 60s.
“To see how the heart was stopped and then started again, and know that person is still alive was just amazing,” Lincoln senior Alexxa Houk said.
The students were accompanied by their advisers, Toni Schooley, gifted coordinator at Laurel, and Jonica Walters, gifted coordinator at Lincoln. They observed the operation from an observation deck overlooking the surgical suite. During the surgery, a staff person from the Cardiovascular Institute explained what was happening in the operating room.
“The students were so focused as to what was going on,” Schooley said.
“Someone’s life is in the hands of these doctors,” Baker noted. “I wouldn’t be averse to working in an OR. I left with a whole new perspective. To see diagrams and pictures of the heart is one thing, but we saw a chest opened up.”
Nearly 2,000 students from school districts throughout the tri-state area have participated in the open-heart surgery observation program since its inception in 2008, and many credit it with guiding them toward careers in health care.
Houk is considering the study of biochemistry and even medical school following college.
While still uncertain about her exact career path, after watching the open heart procedure she said that she is more confident that, “I could handle the whole OR scenario.
“It was more than just the surgeon and anesthesiologist. It took an integral teamwork comprised of 10 to 15 people to do that procedure.”
It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Marlon Tanner, a Laurel junior.
“I like to observe different jobs so it may help determine what I want to do,” Tanner explained. “I have great admiration for the surgeons for what they have to go through. If anybody gets a chance, they should see it for themselves.”
For Schooley, the experience was one she could relate to. Her husband underwent triple bypass surgery, and when she returned from observing the procedure at Allegheny, she had a better understanding of what takes place during these types of operations.
“I had to tell him how much I appreciate him,” she said. “It was very emotional.”
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