Bethel Park science class gets 'window on world' of medicine, watching bypass surgery

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The textbook used by the anatomy and physiology class at Bethel Park High School is linked with an interactive Web site, and Barb Eisel, who teaches the subject, said she uses it frequently to help students understand how the human body works.

But no Web site can compare to the real thing.

Last week, Ms. Eisel brought 15 members of the class to Allegheny General Hospital to witness a coronary artery bypass graft.

"This is probably the most realistic experience for them," Ms. Eisel said.

That was an understatement. The students, all juniors and seniors, gathered around the viewing window in a small room overlooking the surgical theater for more than four hours, watching an 80-year-old woman undergo double-bypass open heart surgery.

They saw her chest opened, watched surgeons extract a vein from her leg for the bypass, witnessed the doctors slowing the patient's heart with ice and potassium injections and observed the completion of the bypass.

As she was watching the surgery, Caroline Steidl, a senior who wants to be a physical therapist, wondered whether doctors listen to music while they work.

Pat Wolf, the coordinator for the observation program, turned the audio from the operating room on in the observation deck, and Ms. Steidl's question was answered. Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi," followed by Sean Kingston's "Fire Burnin' on the Dance Floor," piped into the room.

As the music played, medical staff members worked steadily, making their way through a surgery that takes place several times a week at Allegheny General.

It was "real chill, laid back," Ms. Steidl said. The staff was busy, but they didn't provide the students with the frantic experience usually played out in TV medical dramas like "Grey's Anatomy."

"This would be very boring television," Ms. Wolf said.

One of the students asked Michael Lucci, a physician's assistant who stopped by the observation room to talk about the surgery, if there was a chance blood could shoot up to the glass window panes looking down on the operating table.

Not likely, he said. It may have happened in "ER," but not at AGH.

After the surgery, Dr. David A. Dean, the lead surgeon, said everything had gone well, and that the woman would be out of the hospital within five days.

Dr. Dean is used to having his work watched from above. Since the spring of 2008, Allegheny General has allowed students to watch surgeries from the observation room three times a week.

"It lets them see what is done," Dr. Dean said. "I think there are very few opportunities like this for students to visualize."

Most of Ms. Eisel's 80 students leapt at the chance to witness the surgery, but only 15 of them won the lottery and got to watch the procedure.

This is the first year Bethel Park is offering anatomy and physiology, and Ms. Eisel said she plans to bring more students back next semester to see another operation.

"You can see the blood and the heart beating, and that makes a difference," she said.

Kaitlynn Riely can be reached at or 412-263-1707.


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