Donating my body to science, sort of

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By Geoff Hamill

A family history of heart disease? Who, me? Of course not.

My grandfather has had some heart trouble, but he’s in his 80s now. Oh, and my dad and my uncle had some trouble, but they were both heavy smokers prior to their heart problems.

OK, so I guess this is a “family history” of heart disease, but like most of people, I didn’t want to admit it.

I’m 37, and before my dad was my age, he had already suffered a massive heart attack and nearly died after spending more than a month in the hospital, so it’s naturally scary for me to think about heart disease.

I don’t know about you, but I’m like my dad in lots of ways. I’m one of those people who go to the doctor’s office when something hurts, and hurts badly. I don’t go for every little ache and pain, and I’m not big on being tested, although I know it’s for the best.

Despite my reluctance to see a physician, a recent tour of St. Catharine College’s cardiac sonography lab made me think twice. I took a tour of some of the school’s facilities with President William Huston, and he suggested I come out to the college and volunteer as a model for the students studying in the sonography program.

I told him I’d try to do it some time, but I was certain I wouldn’t get around to it any time soon. Then, later that night at home, I thought more about participating in the scan lab, and how getting some information about the health of my heart could be a good idea, and I decided to take the opportunity. It would help the students by giving them another person on whom they could practice their skills, maybe the same people who would one day be performing this procedure on me at a hospital some day. What did I have to lose?

I went to the lab last Wednesday morning for my appointment, and although I knew it wasn’t going to be anything painful, I was still a little nervous. I guess I knew the exam could show something I didn’t want to see, but I knew I owed it to my family to at least get a peek inside and find out if there was any reason to be concerned.

While the students perform sonograms on each other in the labs, as well as on volunteers like myself, they do not provide a diagnosis. Under the guidance of Saretta Craft, director of diagnostic medical sonography at St. Catharine, they do, however, point out anatomic structures that show up on the test.

I prepared to be scanned by lying on the table and awaiting the first of five students who examined various parts of my heart using the sonography machine. Each was very well versed in the terminology of the exam, and they showed all the care and professionalism of a technician in a clinical setting at a hospital such as the University of Louisville, Flaget, or any of the other numerous hospitals where the students will continue their studies with clinical rotations before starting their careers as professionals.

As the students examined, explained, then moved on to the next volunteer model, I was impressed with their bedside manner and the obviously in-depth training they have received at St. Catharine’s College.

When the students were finished with their practice, I got a final once over by Craft herself, an experienced cardiac sonographer who holds a credential in this area. She explained that while she is not a cardiologist, it might be possible for an abnormal finding to be noticed during a practice scan. If an abnormality is suspected, the model would be recommended to follow up with a doctor.

The sonography program offers three areas of study that a student may pursue: cardiac, vascular or general (abdomen/OB-gyn). Graduates from the program earn an Associate of Science degree with an emphasis in one of these areas. They can also work toward a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences while earning the sonography degree if they choose.

My entire experience at St. Catharine was a positive one, and Craft said her department always welcomes volunteers. I would recommend anyone who would like to get a little peek into their medical situation, or simply help the college by providing them with another body to study, contact Craft at (859) 336-5082 and get more information about the sonography programs and how you can schedule an appointment.

Trust me, it’s a safe, painless process that takes about an hour out of your schedule, and the students will appreciate and benefit from your participation.