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Anatomy class observes open heart surgery

Anatomy class at Cambria Heights High School has grown beyond dissecting frogs.

Honors students at Cambria Heights witnessed open heart surgery earlier this month at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.

“This was an amazing, and in some cases, once in a lifetime opportunity,” Cambria Heights gifted program teacher Michele Schirf said.

Nine students observed the open heart surgery Oct. 5 as the students wrapped up their lessons in the classroom about the different parts of the heart.

Students were able to watch the entirety of the surgery from an observation deck just outside the operating room, and while the operation took place, a health care professional from Allegheny General Hospital sat with the students and explained the process as it was happening.

Schirf said students were able to ask questions and discuss the operation, watching as their textbooks quickly came to life.

“There is definitely a benefit anytime students have authentic learning experiences,” Schirf said. “Students learned about the various parts of the heart in class and were able to apply what they learned to the surgery that was being performed.”

Cambria Heights senior Braden Thomas said he believed he and his classmates had a very solid understanding of the heart prior to observing the surgery.

But after seeing the heart up close and personal, he said there were lessons being learned in real time.

“These weren’t just images in a textbook that we were looking at,” Thomas said. “We were able to apply everything we learned in class. Everyone got to point out what the right atrium is, where the left ventricle was. It confirmed what we already knew about the heart, but we learned so much more, too.”

Thomas said there was certainly a shock factor when students entered the observation deck, as many of his classmates were unsure of what to expect at first.

The surgery was already underway when students were invited inside, and with the patient cut open before their eyes, he said everyone’s perspective quickly changed.

“I think a lot of us are so used to Grey’s Anatomy and how surgery is depicted on TV,” Thomas said. “We quickly found out that this is nothing like TV. This was an actual human life that was dependent on this surgery. It was really eye-opening for all of us.”

Schirf said she has sent students to observe open heart surgery for the past few years, but due to space constraints, only nine students were allowed at the observation deck.

Students in the high school’s gifted program, along with select students enrolled in the anatomy and physiology class, were chosen to attend.

Thomas, who plans to major in pre-med during college, said the trip helped him become even more confident in his career choices.

“This really confirms what I want to do with my life, and I’m really thankful that I was able to see and experience this,” he said.

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