Purdy students scrub up to feel pulse of heart surgery

Tacoma News TribuneJuly 16, 2014 

Before summer break, Purdy Elementary Science Enrichment Specialist Matthew Mills staged a hands-on class experiment where students transplanted artificial valves into pigs’ hearts.

Earlier, Mills, diagnosed with an abnormal mitral valve, underwent surgery to repair it. His surgeon, Dr. Craig Hampton, director of Cardiac Surgery at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, is the father of Mills’ fifth and third grade students Josie and Brendan, respectively.

After surgery, Mills asked Dr. Hampton to be a guest speaker at Purdy. He agreed. He spent three hours teaching 98 eager fifth graders heart operations. They learned heart structure and circulation, how to maintain a healthy heart, then “suited up” and stepped into an “operating room” to suture valves into pigs’ hearts.

For Tyson Brent, “The heart operation was amazing! It was cool because I have a missing heart valve and a hole in my heart.”

That makes it up close and personal.

Deven Meddaugh “thought the heart surgery an amazing experience. To see how the valves of the heart help blood flow through your body makes me want to eat healthier food. It makes me more interested in what my mom, a nurse at St. Anthony in Gig Harbor, does.”

“I thought it was cool to see a real heart,” said Lindsey Lopez. “A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When I grow up I want to be a vet.”

Chris Akulschin “really enjoyed actually putting stitches in the pig heart. It helped me understand how the heart works.”

Dr. Hampton felt the day was an overall success, complimenting lessons previously worked on in class — including cardio vascular biology, anatomy, physiology and also overlapping with engineering relating to form and function in life and medicine. He felt kids’ exposure to medicine “might inspire young curious minds to pursue careers in medicine and/or Applied Sciences.”

“It was fun and helped me learn about the heart,” said Eryn Ganong. “It’s an experience I will never forget.”

Matthew Mehlert felt “the heart surgery lesson helps us learn how to keep our hearts healthy. Keeping away from junk food gives you a better chance to be an athlete.”

“The best part was getting to understand the importance of hearts and how they act and react, to learn how to keep your heart healthy,” Angelina Cruz said.

“It was a privilege to have Dr. Hampton come to our school with the hearts,” said Carly Fellner. “We learned a lot. Having our hands on hearts is better than just reading a book.”

Jaidin Baxter thought “stitching artificial valves into a pigs heart was pretty amazing. I hope Dr. Hampton can keep doing this.”

Purdy principal Kristi Rivera said, “I was encouraged when a heart surgeon came to teach and inspire our students. Not only did Dr. Hampton volunteer his time to teach our students, he had medical supplies and attire, and brought hearts for the children to dissect. He provided an opportunity for all our fifth grade students to be involved in hands-on learning activities empowering their own learning process.”

The last six-week unit of science at Purdy focuses on teamwork and the engineering process. It gives students an opportunity to get their hands dirty and problem solve within a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) focused framework. The activity is designed with student comfort in mind. No one is required to participate at a level uncomfortable to them.

I sure learned a lot!

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