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Moon Students Observe Heart Surgery at Allegheny General Hospital

Eighth-graders look on while a team of medical professionals performs life-saving surgery.

On Friday morning, a patient entered a surgical room at Allegheny General Hospital with a failing heart. 

During an hours-long procedure, doctors at the hospital implanted a left ventricular assist device into the man's chest. It's a procedure that typically precludes a heart transplant: The mechanical circulatory device will help his heart continue to beat. 

Above him and the team performing the surgery, a group of students peered into the surgical room. From an observation room at the hospital, students looked on as Dr. Robert Moroca worked to implant the device. 

It wasn't your typical eighth-grade field trip, said teacher Sharon Gaitens. Gaitens said the surgery viewing was meant to serve as a real-life extension of what the students are learning in the classroom. 

"I think this is a phenomenal opportunity," said Gaitens, standing just a few feet away from the observation window. "I would love to see this become a regular program for students. 

A dozen eighth-graders in the school's  gifted program were the first Moon students to observe a surgery at Allegheny General. The North Side hospital has hosted more than 3,000 student surgical observations over the last three years. 

"The students are just spellbound when they come in here," said Pat Wolfe, program coordinator for the observations. "It gives them real-world prospective for things they learn in the classroom. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." 

As the students watched attentively from above, Wolfe guided them through the surgery, answering their questions and narrating the complicated procedure. 

"Let me ask you," Wolfe said to the students. "Does this make you want to take care of your heart?"

"Yes," the students responded in near-unison as they watched an echocardiogram show the patient's heart valve open and close. 

"My dad made me Google [the procedure] ahead of time, so I knew what it was," said eighth-grader Juhi Goyal. "But seeing this makes me want to think about going into medicine." 

As she looked downward into the surgical room, student Hanna Bartus said she was glad she attended the field trip. 

"I was worried about it being gory," Bartus said. "But it's just really exciting." 

Jenna Staul (Editor) June 06, 2011 at 12:41 PM
To respond to a previous comment left on this story by a user named "A": This was, in fact, the first heart surgery viewed by eighth-graders in the district, according to Allegheny General Hospital. Originally, students were scheduled to view a surgery earlier this year, but the procedure was cancelled.

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