Knee Operation: Students take virtual field trip

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

A scalpel slices open the skin covering the knee. Small rakes are inserted to hold tissue out of the way and bare the arthritic bones.

knee-crowd-2 Bone saws whirr into action to shape the femur and the tibia. A mallet pounds metal replacement parts into position. A plastic kneecap is put in place. The skin is sewn back together.

In 90 minutes time, an 81-year-old patient at Mount Carmel Hospital in Columbus had a new knee—and a classroom of Morenci Area High School students watched the entire process, and even asked a few questions.

Morenci science teacher Kerry Nieman describes the program as a virtual field trip. No time lost in traveling. No transportation costs. No scrubbing up before surgery.

In reality, of course, her science class would never have been admitted into the operating room, nor would any of the other half-dozen participating classes from as far away as Los Angeles.

The Surgical Suite program is arranged by the COSI science museum and marks the first videoconferencing experience for Morenci students. A camera in the operating room broadcasts the entire procedure as it happens.

Signing up for Surgical Suite brings more than the surgery experience, Mrs. Nieman explained. Students prepared by working through pre-surgery activities suggested in a kit from COSI. This included the chance to view X-rays and try out the animated surgery at www.waycoolsurgery.com where the user drags tools around a computer screen, and operates a saw.

“The kids loved it,” Mrs. Nieman said. “It gave them a clue about what they would see in the operating room. It was a nicely put-together package.”

Still, even that didn’t quite prepare students for actual surgery, with bones protruding and a hammer flailing. There was some squirming in the seat when the leg was cut open and the incision was spread wide.

Shortly after the incision was made, head surgeon Dr. Politi began fielding questions from students in the participating schools. Morenci’s Jill Pfund asked about restrictions the patient would face after surgery. Someone at another school asked about recovery time.

Dr. Politi was engaged in conversation throughout the entire process, except when the sound of the bone saw prohibited talk.

Students learned that Medicare would pay about $12,000 for knee replacement; that early attempts used glass replacement pieces; that the invention of bone cement advanced the process greatly; that it’s not athletic activity that leads to knee problems, but injuries suffered during competition.

When Maddie Green asked what could be done to prevent the need for knee surgery, Dr. Politi said to “pick your parents well.” Genetics seem to play a role, he said, but obesity can also lead to joints wearing out.

Information on the project web site also lists lack of exercise leading to muscle weakness as a cause of osteoarthritis. Caffeine from soft drinks and coffee can lead to the weakening of bones.

When the surgical process was complete, operating room personnel spoke briefly about their jobs and schooling required. Creating an awareness of health care careers is an integral part of the program, and each participating school classroom is polled before and after surgery to determine an interest in medical work.

Fifteen of Morenci’s 22 students indicated an interest. Mrs. Nieman has heard students talk about working as physician assistants, EMTs, physical therapists, dental hygienists and nurses.

Post-surgery classroom activities would follow in the next few days, including an exercise to show how an improperly fit knee replacement might feel. Another points out how bacteria on hands shows up under an ultraviolet light.

Those would come later. For now, surgery had ended and it was time to leave the operating room and eat lunch.

“It didn’t gross me out,” Melissa McDowell said to another student. “I could have eaten lunch and watched it.”

Future possibilities 

Morenci’s first videoconferencing experience is the result of work by the district’s technology team—representatives from each building who have explored ways to use interactive television in the classroom.

knee-camera For now, the district is borrowing equipment from the Lenawee Intermediate School District, but technology director Hilda Jones has the purchase order ready to go for Morenci to buy its own camera to link local classrooms with a distant facility.

“It gives us the opportunity to have classroom interaction anywhere in the world,” superintendent Kyle Griffith said.

He sees opportunities at every grade level and intends to make the package a traveling K-12 unit.

Jones said that all three of Morenci’s school buildings are wired with fiber optic lines and ready for videoconferencing.

Science teacher Kerry Nieman was pleased with how the long-distance learning experience went last week.

“Now I got to see exactly how it works and I think it’s going to be a great learning tool for the district,” she said.

She’s making arrangements for a fingerprinting unit to be used by the Math and Science Club, and she’s also looking at a program called “Mapping the Brain.”

Some districts use videoconferencing to expand their curriculum, Griffith said. A smaller district such as Britton might not have enough students to form an AP English class, for example, but could participate in the class taught in Morenci. Morenci students could take advantage of classes taught in Adrian or Tecumseh.

“I’m not in a rush to go in that direction,” Griffith said. “I like where we’re at now. We want to get comfortable with it first, then branch off into other areas.”

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