March 4, 2014
By Peter Clark
Issaquah residents try their hand at heart surgery
Some wear their hearts on their sleeves and some want a closer look.
Two Issaquah residents joined 20 people chosen for Swedish Hospital’s Heart Surgeon for a Day event Feb. 26. Swedish invited Olivia Frangos and Sarah Paulson, who completed online applications, to the Seattle Science Foundation for a day of hands-on heart surgeon education.
Hosted by the full cardiology staff of Swedish Medical Center Cherry Hill Campus as well as a few doctors from the area, the event not only included classroom education, but also real tactical practice for the interested group.
“We’ve shut down the whole cardio lab to welcome you here,” cardiac surgeon Dr. Glenn Barnhart said, greeting participants with excitement to share what he sees as a topic worth exploring. “Heart health today is still very much underappreciated. One in four die of heart disease.”
After a brief explanation of how the heart works and a detailed video of a heart surgery, the doctors sent the participants into a bio lab with five different stations to examine.
Two stations contained devices employed in heart surgery and imaging techniques, complete with live patients. However, the other three stations garnered the most excitement. Those used real pig hearts and a few actual human hearts to demonstrate physiology and surgery tactics.
One station led participants in dissection of a heart, where they learned about the atria, ventricles, valves and arteries that make up the cardio system. One allowed participants to control the da Vinci robotic surgeon on a pig’s heart, using minute tools to suture ruptured valves. Another station led participants in actual repair of torn valves. There, doctors gave novices the tools and sutures to sew up parts of a heart by hand.
“It’s so cool,” Paulson said with a wide grin as she began taking up the tools to mend a torn valve.
She said she had looked forward to taking part and it did not disappoint.
“I couldn’t sleep last night — I was so excited,” Paulson said. “You hear about the heart and these things, but most people don’t have the opportunity to see it for yourself.”
The 24-year-old said she graduated with a degree in anthropology, but continued to have an interest in medicine.
“My mom was a lung nurse for years,” Paulson said. “I just wanted to get a taste of what she did.”
She spoke highly of the experience.
“Just to be able to hold the heart and just feel it was incredible,” Paulson said. She said it was her favorite part “to be a part of something only a select few can and just to feel it.”
The other Issaquah resident greeted the chance with an equal amount of enthusiasm.
“I actually saw it in the newspaper,” Frangos said of The Issaquah Press. “And I thought, ‘Why not do this?’ Swedish is such a great hospital.”
The 16-year-old said she already enrolled in the Running Start program with Bellevue College to get a leg up in her education. Though she may not seek a career in surgery, she said she did look at the medical profession.
“The scrubs alone are great,” Frangos said with a grin.
“We’re actually being a heart surgeon,” she said seriously, “and using the technology.”
The reality of the experience gave her pause.
“I replaced a valve,” she said with wonder. “It was great being able to share that experience with others.”
More than 200 people applied to be a heart surgeon for a day, according to public relations account coordinator Anthony Cogswell. Participants were chosen at random. The event followed Swedish’s first foray into hands-on education, last year’s Brain Surgeon for a Day.
“This was a very open program,” Cogswell said. “One woman was actually operated on by Dr. Barnhart. All these people have great stories and are so interested.”
He shared excitement about the reception for the educational program and said Swedish officials enjoyed giving close-up information.
“Where else are people going to get this access?” he asked.
At the beginning of the event, Barnhart warned about the years is took to earn his status. He said it took 17 and a half years of education after high school before he worked as a heart surgeon.
“It’s a pretty long haul, but it’s also very rewarding,” he said.
Regardless of whether the participants would further their medical education, he stressed the importance of sharing a message of heart health.
“Why is it still with us?” Barnhart asked of heart disease. “It’s what we don’t do right, and we need to improve on these things.”