High schoolers get up-close look at open heart surgery

BY Briana Vannozzi, Correspondent |

Pemberton Township High School students interested in medical careers listen with their eyebrows raised, and for some, uncomfortable giggles escape while surgeons at Deborah Heart and Lung Center walk them through a simulcast open heart surgery. This particular lesson is weeding out the ones who will prefer to remain outside the operating room.

“We want to get them introduced to real life experiences. We can only give them so much in the classroom. We try and use online experiences, but this lets them see a surgery that is real,” said Kelli Copeland, a health occupations teacher at Pemberton Township High School.

The actual surgery is taped and cut down from about three hours to 20 minutes, which is more fitting for a class period. But the voice they hear is that of a surgeon, who’s recording live.

“This sequence of video just shows us getting the veins and arteries ready for doing the actual bypass,”  explains Dr. Paul Burns, chair of the Department of Surgery at Deborah Heart and Lung Center.

“It’s a dual purpose. Some of it is to expose them to what Deborah does, but it also gets them in the mind of looking at being heart healthy,” said Tom Campbell, director of marketing, media and public relations at Deborah Heart and Lung Center.

Campbell says it’s part of a larger initiative at Deborah called the Adolescent Medicine Program, but this one seems to get the most intense response.

“I thought it was very graphic, and me personally, I always wanted to do something with surgery, but now that I see all the blood, I don’t think I could do it.” said Jasmin Wall, a junior at Pemberton Township High School.

“Last year, they did a video of an amputation of a foot. This one was definitely more graphic than the amputation, but it was very educational and I did like it,” said Gabby Lambert, a senior.

12 other high schools, 1,000 students total, get in on the action by sending the surgeon questions in real time while he answers and they watch.

“From the classes I’ve been taking in school, I knew most of what he was talking about — the names of the arteries and tools and veins and what they were doing,” said Lambert.

Pemberton Township High School offers a Medical Arts Academy, so the students are no strangers to anatomy, physiology and bio terms, and they’re learning what it means to put paper to practice.

“It’s really eye opening I don’t think I want to be in that room, like, I can’t have somebody else’s life in my hands,” said sophomore Chenoah Sabo.

“After watching this, I see there’s a lot of preparation that goes into surgery, and I see there’s a lot of other jobs in the medical field, and you don’t have to be in the room exactly, but prepping for the surgery and doing a lot of other things,” said Christopher Waller-Jones, a senior.

But for a certain few, a squeamish stomach is no match.

“It actually makes me think I might want to go into that career because of how, I guess, cool-looking it is,” said freshman Elissa Kirtley.

They might just be your next doctor.