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Feb. 27, 2014
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Christian Academy of Knoxville junior Christian Bruner replaced a valve in a pig’s heart under the direction of one of the area’s top heart surgeons at school Thursday. That’s not an experience very many high school students can put on a college application.
The cardiothoracic surgeon was Dr. Tom Pollard, and he brought a heart surgery team of 12 to teach students in two of Karen Moore’s honors anatomy classes at CAK. The goal was to show the students how the heart functions by examining and dissecting its parts. The students also got to try suturing and replacing heart valves.
“It’s so much more meaningful than seeing it on a computer screen or in a book,” Pollard said. “They can see that what their learning really has real-life impact – certainly on what I do every day.”
This is the eighth year that Pollard and his team have conducted the heart labs at CAK, where his children attend school, and they’ve directed similar labs at other high schools as well. Working with Pollard on Thursday were fellow surgeon Dr. Chad Stouffer, as well as surgery technicians, physician assistants, profusion technicians and registered nurses.
“I love teaching, and this is fun to give the kids an up close and personal look at how the heart is put together and how it works,” Stouffer said. “It’s great to see their excitement.”
Pollard and Stouffer are part of Parkwest Medical Center’s innovative TAVR (transcatheter aortic valve replacement) team that specializes in heart valve replacement without open heart surgery. They practice with the East Tennessee Cardiovascular Surgery Group.
Pig hearts were used because their size and structure are similar to human hearts. Pig valves are used to replace worn out or leaking human heart valves, along with artificial valves. The hearts were donated by Edwards Lifesciences.
Teacher Karen Moore said she especially enjoys seeing her students have fun and learn at the same time.
“A lot of the anatomy students are considering health careers, and this is a great tool for not only seeing what you do and whether they want to do this, but also just understanding why these health professionals love what they do,” she said.
Junior Matthew Little said he is considering becoming a physician and enjoyed asking the doctors about their journeys to becoming cardiothoracic surgeons. His father is a pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist.
“It’s one thing to see it in your book. It’s another thing to see the actual valves and veins,” Little said.
Pollard openly acknowledged to the students that he has another motive besides teaching anatomy.
“We hope to encourage some of the best and brightest to go into health professions,” he said. “Everyone on this team loves their jobs, and we have a great time.”
About Covenant Health
Covenant Health is a not-for-profit health system providing comprehensive health services throughout East Tennessee. Headquartered in Knoxville, Covenant Health includes eight acute care hospitals as well as numerous outpatient health care services, physician offices and wellness programs. Covenant Health has more than 10,000 employees, volunteers and affiliated physicians.