Independent Study in the Surgery Suite
When Brian Ferrell ’12 underwent knee surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) last month, he wasn’t alone. In addition to his dad who had travelled to Pittsfield to be with his son, two of Brian’s sixth-form classmates were also at Berkshire Medical Center. In fact, Kelsey West ’12 and Alex English ’12 were in the operating room for Brian’s entire surgery.
“Last year when I was trying to think of a topic to pursue as an independent study, I never thought that I would have the opportunity to witness an ACL replacement surgery,” says Kelsey. “Even when I chose to do the study in Athletic Training, I still didn’t think I would actually have the experience of sitting in scrubs with a team of doctors as they worked to replace Brian’s ACL. On January 20th, I was able to sit no farther than two feet away while the surgeon [Dr. Anthony DeFelice] walked through every step.”
Kelsey and Alex have been studying since last September with Berkshire’s Head Athletic Trainer, Marc Wysocki, who orchestrated this opportunity for them to observe the laparoscopic repair of Brian’s knee. “I was excited for the girls,” Mr. Wysocki says. “I knew this was a rare and great learning opportunity for them. I dropped them off to the person in charge at the hospital. I picked them up when they called, and they had huge smiles on their faces and were very excited about the entire experience. I was very glad everything went well for them.”
Alex admits that, before watching live surgery, she hadn’t considered that “I might not be able to handle the goriness of it.” When she first arrived in the operating room, Alex “immediately noticed that my chair did not have a backrest; therefore, if I did pass out, then that would be pretty unfortunate for me. I then noticed a garbage can behind me in the corner—just in case I did start to get queasy.”
When the operation began, Kelsey recalls, “The surgeon turned on some music and then started the three-hour procedure of replacing the ACL with a tendon from Brian’s hamstring. The surgeon first inserted the scope into the knee to just do a general observation of the torn ACL and make sure the meniscus wasn’t torn or damaged in any way. Even though all the surgeon did for this part was insert a tiny scope under the patella, I stared in awe at what was actually happening. It was hard for me to get my head around the fact that this camera was in Brian’s knee and taking magnified pictures of his frayed ACL on the TV above our heads.”
Alex adds that “the coolest part of my experience would have to be this one tool the doctor explained as being ‘basically a mini-microwave.’ The tool was sort of like a probe; it was about seven inches long, and he used it to eliminate the scar tissue within the knee. I just remember watching on the screen as the tool went around and zapped all of the white fluff built up all around it; it was as if it disappeared into thin air.”
Both Kelsey and Alex came through their experience with flying colors. And how about Brian?
“I didn’t see them the entire time I was there. Medical staff sedated me first, then numbed my leg and blocked the nerves for my knee, and then gave me general anesthesia. The last thing I remember was lying back with my arms out and being seat-belted me down,” says Brian. “I thought Alex and Kelsey would be really grossed out, but Alex said blood was, like, squirting out—and she was really interested!”
Recovery is going well for him: after a few weeks on crutches, Brian is now walking in a brace.
Both girls are grateful to Brian and his doctor for allowing them to observe his surgery. Kelsey considers that “witnessing a surgeon was one of the coolest—if not the coolest—things I have done in high school.” And Alex adds that “I always used to wonder how doctors can actually do this sort of thing as a career, and now I understand: once you’ve seen an operation, it really isn’t that bad.”
Click here to learn more about the Independent Study program at Berkshire School.
-- Linda Bellizzi, Director of the Independent Study Program