May 15, 2023
Five USCHS students observe open-heart surgery
Five Upper St. Clair High School students had the opportunity to observe open-heart surgery on Monday, May 15, 2023, at Allegheny General Hospital (AGH). Students include seniors Jackson Fitzgerald, John Marsh, Yoshna Venkataraman; junior Mahleywa Parish-Some; and sophomore Sydney Montgomery.
The event marked the 15th anniversary of the AGH Open-Heart Surgery Observation Program. The Upper St. Clair students were joined by students from Obama Academy as well as program alumni.
The Upper St. Clair students were accompanied by Dr. Colin Syme, USCHS science teacher, who has participated in the program every year since he began teaching at the school in 2009. The program was paused during the pandemic.
“This opportunity goes way-beyond any opportunity available in the classroom. They are witnessing life-changing events in real-time,” Dr. Syme said. “They are overwhelmed when they see a beating heart, and then watch it being slowed down and stopped during surgery. It is an incredible experience for students. This can be affirming in deciding about future career paths.”
Typically, Upper St. Clair High School students are invited to observe once in fall and again in the spring. Biology teacher Dawn Mostowy’s Advanced Placement Biology students have the opportunity to attend in October or November and Dr. Syme’s Honors Anatomy & Physiology students attend in March or April.
“I arrange the March/April date to coincide with my Cardiovascular System Unit in anatomy class, when students learn about the structure and function of the heart,” Dr. Syme said. “We encourage students interested in health-related careers to attend. Those students tend to be interested in medicine, nursing, physician's assistant and physical therapy.”
In the observation room, high school students view the surgery from above, looking directly onto the surgical table.
“Typically, the surgeon wears a head camera, so it is possible to observe heart anatomy in great detail,” Dr. Syme said. “We have observed many different procedures over the years including coronary bypass, valve repair/replacement, placement of left ventricular assist pump, and heart transplant.”
The operating room staff will visit with students to describe the procedures, discuss health careers, and take other questions.
“We have been fortunate throughout the program to have surgeons, perfusionists, physician's assistants, and the coordinator of the heart transplant program talk to our students,” Dr. Syme said. “We have also had Dr. Burkholder, a retired cardiothoracic vascular surgeon, spend the morning with students to describe/explain the surgery, as well as describe and demonstrate how artificial heart valves have evolved over time. This experience can be a defining moment for students in choosing a career path.”
The AGH Open Heart Surgery Observation Program was established in 2008 by Dr. George Magovern Jr., system chairman of the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery for AHN and co-chair of AHN’s Cardiovascular Institute.