CEGEP students get a firsthand look at brain surgery

WATCH ABOVE: Students gather at the Montreal Neurological Institute to test their skills at simulated brain surgery. Global’s Billy Shields has more.

MONTREAL – Neahad Achi looked at the blood gushing out of her patient’s brain and almost panicked.

As she worked on two brain tumours, she could hear his heart rate slowly drop and she feared that for the first time in her life, she was going to lose a patient.

Then the clock ran out and she stepped away.

She had eliminated one of the patient’s tumours – an early success for a high school student involved in an unusual simulation held by the Montreal Neurological Institute.

Although it was just a simulation, Achi said it put her on edge nonetheless.

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“You feel like your heart’s beating and it’s stressful,” she said.

“But as soon as the tumour is gone, you’re okay.”

She’s one of about two dozen students in Quebec who were prize winners at the Bench to Bedside Conference for Youth, a gathering aimed at fostering student careers in medical fields.

Dr. Rolando Del Maestro, the neurosurgeon who led the simulations, says these events are useful to identify who might be suited to neurosurgery.

“In a simulated environment we can have a patient die. We can show how a surgeon responds to that,” he said.

Del Maestro says almost every student using the simulator encounters major problems that could kill a patient in real life.

But students continue to surprise his staff.

“One of the more remarkable students removed about 80 to 90 percent of the simulated tumours in the given amount of time,” said Ibrahim Marwa, a research assistant.

Students first used a pair of pincers to manipulate plastic blocks and paper clips to get experience with other types of surgeries, specifically those that could occur on the abdomen.

Then they moved on to the computer simulation that involved the brain tumours, which had a feedback mechanism that made it seem like the real thing.

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“This is a lot harder than it looks,” said Eunice You, who attends Marianopolis College in Westmount.

“These are skills that develop our hand-eye coordination.”

On a more macro level, Del Maestro says the field of neuroscience is more than understanding basic motor functions.

“How do we organize our world?” he asked rhetorically.

“How do we translate it into a better world.”

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