A single cut down the chest reveals a beating heart. A chemical infusion quiets it completely before steady hands deliver slick incisions and the process begins.
Twenty-five students from the Paint Branch Medical Careers Program got the chance to view these precise moments on January 6th when they traveled to the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute in Annandale, Virginia. During this trip, the group witnessed a team of surgeons perform a coronary bypass surgery on a patient who, according to patient reports, did not maintain a healthy enough diet and did not get a sufficient amount of exercise.
The procedure the group witnessed is required when plaque builds up in a patient’s coronary artery, resulting in low blood flow to the heart. To counter this, surgeons create an alternative route (a “bypass”) for the blood to travel by taking a vein from the chest, leg or arm and attaching it to the heart. The heart pumps blood through the vein rather than the clogged artery, allowing the circulatory system to proceed as normal.
During their trip, the students first spoke with a registered nurse and the cardiac surgeon who later performed the surgery. They explained the patient’s physical issues, gave a step-by-step description of the operation, and answered any questions the aspiring medical professionals had. “Even if you didn’t know anything about the medical field, the doctor and nurse made it so that anyone could understand,” recounted junior Lys Escarne.
After the introduction, the students went into the “Dome,” a platform that allows visitors a bird’s eye-view of surgical procedures. “It didn’t seem like a human being. You couldn’t even tell that it was a female because of how well everywhere they weren’t working, was covered up,” recalled senior Dorian Arrindal. “For three hours straight, her heart stopped beating. It was amazing.”
Looking back on the experience, Escarne recalled the passion and care everyone expressed for not only the patient but for promoting healthy lifestyles so that others do not have to go through what their patients go through. “Overall, the trip solidified what I already knew; this is the profession that I want to go into,” she commented.