Fourteen-year-old Riley Baker is considering a career in medicine. So she was eager to join other students at Connellsville Area Senior High School as they recently observed open heart surgery at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.

“I never thought a heart looked like this,” said Baker, a freshman from South Connellsville.

As Baker and 14 other students of Connellsville’s gifted biology class and program gazed through the windows of an observation dome at North Shore Hospital, a 58-year-old man lay on a table in the ward. ‘operation below where Dr George Magovern Jr. and a team of medical professionals performed a triple bypass to treat severely clogged human arteries.

The Connellsville students, who were participating in the open heart surgery operations program at Allegheny General Hospital, had arrived at the hospital on the day of the operation and were directed to the private observation room where they attended. are seated on benches in front of tables that lined a dome, allowing them a clear view of the patient, which was prepared before the students entered the observation area.

“It was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up,” said Taylor Childs, 17, a senior who is considering a career in psychology. “Just watching it is so interesting. I couldn’t imagine a family member going through this and being on the table. ”

Allegheny General began the observation program in 2008 under the care of Magovern, head of the hospital’s thoracic and cardiovascular surgery department. Magovern’s father, Dr George Magovern Sr., was a pioneering surgeon at the hospital as he performed the first open heart surgery in Pittsburgh in 1958 and developed the Magovern-Cromie valve used in cardiac surgery. To date, approximately 5,000 students from more than 70 schools in western Pennsylvania as well as West Virginia and Ohio have participated in the Allegheny General program. In addition to Connellsville, local students from Brownsville, Carmichaels and Uniontown participated in the program, which operates four days a week from September through June.

Dr Justin Guess, a gifted program instructor at Connellsville, said it was his fourth time bringing students to Allegheny General.

“I like the reactions of the students. It’s a pretty impressive experience, ”he said. “Long after the textbooks, they will remember it.

Pat Wolf, coordinator of the observation program, said the facility is a “teaching hospital” and part of the patient’s consent is that the surgery can be observed.

Wolf spent time with the students during the four-hour surgery, explaining the procedure as medical professionals worked to open the patient’s chest, expose the heart and slow its beating, then remove a vein from the patient’s leg. man and sew it. to his heart to divert blood around blocked arteries. Throughout the procedure, Wolf also drew attention to the equipment used and described the work of medical professionals.

“Hope this makes you think about keeping your heart healthy,” said Wolf, advising students to know their family history, not to smoke, to watch their diet, and to exercise.

As Jacob Wiltrout, 17, of Bullskin Township, contemplates a career in optometry, he said heart surgery was a beneficial experience.

“It’s very delicate – the work done by the surgical team,” he said.

Sophomore Garrett Snyder, 15, also from Bullskin Township, said he also intends to work in the medical field and appreciated the opportunity to observe the professionals and “all the different collaborations between people and their families. jobs “.

Magovern said perhaps one of the biggest benefits of the program is helping students at a young age understand the importance of teamwork.

“I think we give them an appreciation for teamwork. Whatever field you are in, you work as a team. A surgeon relies on ten people to have a successful operation. It’s not just one person participating, ”said Magovern. “Some are curious about doctors. Some are curious about nurses or medical assistants. We hope they get a good idea of ​​what part of medicine they might enjoy or areas related to health. And it’s very exciting to see the surgery so close. ”

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