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AGH Open Heart Surgery Observation Program Reaches 5,000-plus Students From Throughout Tri-State Area

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

PITTSBURGH – (Oct. 3, 2012) - Reading about open heart surgery in a textbook is one thing. Experiencing it in person is quite another matter, as more than 5,000 students from throughout the region can attest.
Since May 2008, high school students from Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio have taken advantage of a unique opportunity to observe West Penn Allegheny Health System’s top cardiovascular surgeons in action. Coordinated by the Allegheny General Hospital Gerald McGinnis Cardiovascular Institute (CVI), the Open Heart Surgery Observation Program has now hosted more than 5,000 students from nearly 100 schools throughout the area.
Participants have included Pittsburgh-area schools such as Burrell, Pittsburgh-Perry and Moon Area, outlying districts such as Beaver Falls and Hermitage, hospital and university-based nursing schools and even biomedical engineering students from Carnegie Mellon University.
According to Pat Wolf, Program Coordinator, CVI, this program is beneficial for students in several ways.
“Students learn why biology, chemistry and physics are such important subjects,” she said. “This experience makes a strong impression on those students who are considering a career in medicine. They also see the consequences of smoking and a diet high in fat. We hope this experience will help them make healthy lifestyle choices.”
During surgery, Ms. Wolf or another staff person from CVI joins the students and their teachers and explains what is happening in the operating room. Students observe an open heart surgery such as a coronary artery bypass or valve replacement. Following  surgery, the surgeon will often meet with the students and answer questions.
For Robert Fort, an 18-year-old student from the Aquinas Academy in Gibsonia, Pa., the student observation program has been an eye-opening experience. “I am thinking about becoming a doctor. Through this experience, I learned a lot about all the people who are part of the surgical team,” he said.
Added Daniel Bowman, Athletic Director at Bishop Canevin High School in Pittsburgh, “I had heart valve surgery and was curious to see what takes place behind the scenes. My students were also stimulated by this experience.”
George Magovern, MD, Chair, AGH Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, and founder of the Open Heart Surgery Observation Program, said this initiative demonstrates CVI’s commitment to community education.
“Allegheny General is the only hospital in Western Pennsylvania with a functioning observation room above the operating theater,” said Dr. Magovern. “The observation deck provides students with an opportunity to view real-time surgery and will hopefully solidify many students’ interest in becoming a doctor, nurse, physician’s assistant, cardiovascular perfusionist or operating room technician.”
Other schools interested in the program can contact Pat Wolf at 412-359-6491.