By SARA ARTHURS
The 16- and 17-year-olds observed the beating heart.
Then they saw it cease beating, as the person it belonged to was put on a heart-lung machine.
After a bypass operation allowed for more blood flow, it begin beating again, more vigorously than before.
A total of 120 students, most of them juniors in the health professions program at Millstream Career Center, watched a live open heart surgery Wednesday through a partnership that involved Dr. James Slater and his wife, Fiona Laird; Liberty Science Center; Blanchard Valley Health System; and Millstream.
The University of Findlay had a presence, with four physician assistant students helping facilitate students’ questions.
Slater, who works at Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey, performed the coronary artery bypass graft while students watched through videoconferencing.
Slater said his hospital has had a longstanding relationship with Liberty Science Center, also in New Jersey, allowing for programs like this.
Laird is a senior executive at Marathon Petroleum Corp. When her career meant she was moving to Findlay recently, Slater, who has an established medical practice, remained in New Jersey.
Wednesday’s event grew out of a discussion between the couple and Scott Malaney, CEO of Blanchard Valley Health System, who then put them in touch with Findlay City Schools.
Cassie Van Horn, a health professions instructor at Millstream, said there is no way she’d be able to take the entire junior class to see a surgery, but she has been searching for ways to help her students explore different careers.
Her students plan to go into a variety of fields, ranging from surgery to nursing to dietetics to dental hygiene. Van Horn said she hopes they feel “that what they’re doing serves a purpose. … I want my students to be the next generation of health care providers.”
Student Maliah Snook said her goal is to become a social worker in a hospital. Studying health professions, she’s learned how it’s possible to do so much more medically than could be done in the past. Before the presentation began, she said she was looking forward to “seeing what your actual heart looks like.”
Margaret Cole wants to be a veterinarian. In addition to learning science, she’s gained a lot socially from being in the health professions program and meeting new people.
While job shadowing at an animal hospital, Cole had watched a surgery — but it was on a pig. She expected Wednesday’s heart surgery to be a little different.
Allison Kimberlin wants to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist. She said she was excited to see how the medical team stopped and restarted the patient’s heart.
Dr. Slater said the patient, a 68-year-old man with a history of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, had not had a heart attack, but had blockages in the past. The surgical team did a bypass Wednesday because of a blockage.
As its name suggests, a bypass allows blood to bypass a blockage. The surgeon sews on new blood vessels to physically channel the blood from above to below the blockage, Slater said. The blockage still exists, but it no longer affects the heart.
During the procedure, a camera was positioned above the patient’s chest, so his face was not visible. Slater said the patients involved in such videoconferencing have agreed to allow their surgeries to be streamed. And Slater had the option of cutting out the video if something went wrong.
He said he does these events because he takes pride in his and his team’s work. He has found that students “ask really good questions.”
And, he said, he gets to educate them on behaviors that lead to heart disease. He told students the five main risk factors are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and family history (in particular, heart disease in a family member under age 60).
Slater said while you can’t control all of these factors, you can control some.
Posters on the tables at the Cafe at Millstream had facts related to heart health. Among them, “Your heart beats 100,000 times every day, sending 2,000 gallons of blood through your body.” Another poster included recommendations for physical activity.
Millstream’s culinary arts students created a heart-healthy lunch of a salad with grilled chicken.
Van Horn’s program also collaborated with Millstream’s print program, which made a large laminated heart that allowed students to follow along with the surgery and mark what was being done.
The facilitator who introduced Slater pointed out that the decisions the students make now will affect their health down the line. She said surgeries like Wednesday’s can give a patient back a quality of life that had been lost over time.
She said students would see the surgical saw divide the sternum — basically breaking the bone in a controlled fashion. Before the team stitched up the patient’s chest at the end of the surgery, they sewed it together with wires.
Slater said generally the wires remain in place forever, but they can be removed if they start causing discomfort or there is an infection.
Along with Slater, the team included a physician assistant, a scrub nurse, two circulating nurses, a profusionist, who is the person who runs the heart-lung machine, and an anesthesiologist.
After the surgery, the anesthesiologist showed the students the patient’s echocardiogram, showing what the heart had looked like before, and how much more active it was post-surgery, “really bouncing around” and squeezing more tightly.
The heart started beating on its own again, even before the patient was taken off the machine. Slater said the heart is like a computer — if you shut it down right, it will boot back up. The patient remained on the heart-lung machine for some time, so the team could check their work.
After “nods all around” that everything looked good, they took him off the machine. The students could see how the heart was beating more vigorously.
One point Slater said he loves to make is “how calm it all is.”
“If you watch ‘Grey’s Anatomy'” on TV there is a lot of drama and crazy situations happening, “and people are yelling and screaming,” but for Slater and his colleagues it’s a “very routine, ordinary situation” with a “complete lack of drama.”
Malaney spoke to the students ahead of time, telling them an important part of health care is making sure patients feel not only “clinically well cared for,” but also that as human beings, they have been cared about.
Malaney said Slater is one of the busiest heart surgeons in the country, and Findlay’s students were lucky to have this experience: “This is not normal.”
Afterward, Van Horn said she was impressed with how attentive her students were, many of them “sitting on the edge of their seats.”
Student Kallie Kramer, who wants to go into nursing, said watching the surgery helped give her a better grasp of what’s involved.
The staff also answered questions on many aspects of the science of how the heart works. One student asked a question about a portion of the heart that appeared yellow. The answer is that it is fat, and does not indicate disease — everyone’s heart has fat on it, which serves as an energy source for the heart muscle.
Slater said when they first started doing these programs, people who didn’t work in an operating room had no way of seeing things like this.
Now, YouTube makes it possible, but this program goes beyond that in that the students get to interact with all the medical staff, he said.