Students get rare view into live open-heart surgery

Students get rare view into live open-heart surgery

Rebecca Burczak, an AP science student at Providence High School in New Lenox, Ill., watched with great anticipation as a surgeon guided his scalpel down the center of a patient’s chest, carefully separating the center of the membranous sac that encloses the heart.

“I don’t ever want to be that person on the table!” she exclaimed.

More than 300 selected anatomy and biology high school students from around the state shared her opinion. The students filled the standing-room-only auditorium at Advocate Christ Medical Center as if they were lining up for a Justin Bieber concert.

The program, called “Live…from the Heart,” offers students a rare glimpse into the world of open-heart surgery through a real-time, interactive video conference. Students watch the surgery as it unfolds and can speak directly with a team of experts during the procedure.

“It didn’t bug me at all, to be honest, I thought it was pretty cool,” Burczak says. “I loved being able to talk to the doctors and the other professionals because it gave me a first-hand view of what each one does.”

“Live…from the Heart” is a nationally recognized program from the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry in cooperation with Advocate Christ Medical Center. It started nearly 10 years ago. Since then, more than 18,000 junior high and high school students have watched the surgical team at Christ Medical Center perform open-heart surgery. The program has drawn students from Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and as far away as Japan and Brazil.

Witnessing open-heart surgery through the eyes—and hands—of a doctor is “an opportunity that most people will never get,” says Coleen Dillion, science department chair at Providence High School.

“We bring our top science students who are interested in the medical field,” Dillion says. “This educational experience helps them decide if the surgical or medical field is the right career for them.”

“Live . . . from the Heart” also gives students in grades 8 through 12 a greater appreciation for the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

“We usually receive an overwhelming interest from high school students who are in the advanced placement biology and anatomy courses and have expressed an interest in medicine,” says Sue Latocha, coordinator of community health and wellness at the Christ Medical Center Heart and Vascular Institute. “The program also teaches students about healthy lifestyle choices, which they’re able to share with friends and family members.”

Watching the live surgery is actually the culmination of a rigorous classroom curriculum about the heart and heart health. Students use an “investigative journal” to track information about the patient whose surgery they will view and take part in activities that illustrate key lessons learned.

“The program allows students to explore the human heart in all its wonder,” says Dr. Pat Pappas, medical director of Christ Medical Center’s Heart and Vascular Institute. “What I enjoy most is the interaction with students as they ask the surgical team questions about all things heart-related.”



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  1. This is a great progam – I have seen it myself. And it got started with the help of philanthropy to Christ Medical Center

  2. I would have loved to attend this in high school! What a great way to educate teenagers on the medical field. Also, watching the surgery may help students think twice about eating so much fast food as they don't want to end up on the surgical table one day themselves.

  3. Would it be possible to have Biology Club student’s from our college prep high school participate in the virtual open heart surgery experience?

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.