Originally created 04/24/04

Health students get closer look



EDGEFIELD - Strom Thurmond High School pupils didn't have to scrub in to gain access to the operating room Friday morning. Instead, they logged in.

With the help of some high-powered electronics, juniors and seniors in their health-science technology class observed an open-heart surgery, learning how to unblock arteries in a 47-year-old man's heart without leaving their classroom.

Televisions, digital video cameras and microphones set around the room provided pupils with an in-depth look at the procedure, allowing them to ask the doctor live questions via the Internet.

Dr. Claudio Guareschi, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Self Regional Heathcare in Greenwood, showed pupils at Strom Thurmond and Newberry high schools a past operation while narrating the procedure in real time. Pupils from both schools asked questions and interacted with Dr. Guareschi during the three-hour procedure.

"My grandmother went through the same procedure in December, when she had a triple bypass," said Tonya Friar, 16. "The doctors told me what they did, but being able to see it firsthand, like we are all in the operating room, really helped me understand everything better."

This was the first time the Virtual Surgery Project, a pilot program created by the South Carolina Hospital Association, was used in the state. Lara Hewitt, the project coordinator for the hospital association, said she hoped Friday's surgery experience would get more pupils interested in health-care careers.

"This has never been done before, and I think we had a great success here," she said. "Getting the students to interact in a major medical surgery is a big step, and I hope we can do more of these around the state next year."

When Dr. Guareschi started operating, some pupils cringed at the sight of blood. Others quickly asked questions: "Why is the heart yellow? How did he get it to stop beating? Is that bad?"

Dr. Guareschi, listening through the digital Webcam, explained that fat covered the heart, giving it a yellow hue. He used a special fluid to stop the heart in order to work on it.

"Most of the time I don't like to stop the heart unless it is necessary to do so, and in this case, it also lets you see everything a little better," he told the pupils.

Torey Lipscomb, 16, said she thought the operation was a good experience.

"It's cool to see everything so close. I didn't know it looked like that," she said. "I didn't know they take a vein from your leg and put it in your heart; that was pretty neat."

Senior Sharon Little, 18, said the surgery gave her more motivation to become a nurse after she graduates from high school in May.

"He was holding that heart in his hand. It was so interesting. I just thought the whole thing will be an experience I won't forget," she said.

After Dr. Guareschi finished the procedure and the patient's heart began beating again, the pupils seemed relieved.

"I hope that guy's OK," said Jason Edmonds, 16.

Reach Peter G. Gilchrist at (803) 648-1395, or peter.gilchrist@augustachronicle.com.