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Students watch artificial heart surgery

Dale Thompson, Of the Record staff
Students watch pre-recorded artificial hear surgery. The Virtual Healthcare Interactive Project lets students pose questions to the surgeon as he narrates the video.
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High school students may not be allowed in the operating room but on Monday afternoon they came pretty close.

For perhaps the first time in the Western United States high school students watched pre-recorded heart surgery and interacted with the surgeon through a virtual link that allowed them to ask questions as he narrated the process.

This was made possible through a partnership between the Utah State Office of Education and Intermountain Healthcare. Their Virtual Healthcare Interactive Project is ideal because it gives students an opportunity to watch surgery without jeopardizing a patient’s confidentiality.

Students from around the state gathered at four different sites to participate. Fifty students from Park City High School, South Summit High School, North Summit High School, Morgan High School and Wasatch High School viewed the presentation at Utah Valley State College, Wasatch-Heber Valley Campus.

To be part of the program schools had to apply and explain why it would benefit their class to participate.

In preparation for viewing the surgery students studied the human heart and also viewed a CD titled "Career Profiles," that highlighted a surgical team that works with artificial hearts, also known as Left Ventricular Assist Devices. They also watched a presentation on the different LVAD’s where they got to handle the equipment and become more familiar with how it worked.

Andrea Davis, a communications consultant for IHC, said one of the program goals was to get more students interested in health care careers.

The Career and Technical Education Director for North and South Summit School Districts, Mineta Wilde, said that much of the education system these days is geared toward academics while experiences like this one allow students to get hands-on experience in their field of interest.

"I think that the students will have an idea of what kinds of careers they want to go into," she said of programs like the Virtual Healthcare Interactive Project.

Students watched on the television screen as Dr. James W. Long, director of the Utah artificial heart program at LDS Hospital sawed through the breastbone of a patient, he assured them it was delicately done.

Students made periodic inquiries about the procedure. One student asked how much time the doctor interacts with his patients outside of the operating room.

Long responded the personal interaction with patients is an important part of the process. The medical profession is still learning to use new technologies and he admires the patients for being part of the process as doctors pioneer the field.

"These guys are heroes in my mind," Long said.

The doctor went on to explain that many people can lead fairly normal, active lives after this type of surgery. Seventy percent of the patients are still living after getting the pumps in, many of whom would have been dead within months after experiencing heart failure.

Currently the pumps used last up to four years. A team of engineers has been working on one that lasts between 10-15 years. Many of the pumps being developed now are smaller, and it is becoming an increasingly less invasive surgery.

Long believes that in three to five years pumps will have success rates that are equal to or greater than success rates of transplants because with the pumps no anti-rejection medication is needed. Pumps are especially promising because transplants aren’t available to everyone that needs one.

A student in the audience asked if Long was ever anxious while operating on a patient. Long explained that nerves can be good thing but it’s important to focus and trust yourself.

"You also have to have self confidence," he said.


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