Hearts that Stopped so Mine Could Beat



Every day, thousands of lives are saved due to open heart surgery and heart transplant procedures. In the United states alone, half a million people are saved each year from having open heart surgery. These surgeries are now very common and strategic because of the extensive research that was performed on animals. Scientists, such as John Gibbon, spent decades conducting experimental heart procedures on dogs and cats. Without the knowledge provided by biomedical research on animals, open heart surgery and heart transplant procedures would not be possible.


Since the late 1930’s, John Gibbon was the first known scientist to attempt a cardiac bypass technique using cats. Along with his extensive experiments utilizing pumps and oxygenators, he and his colleagues began studying the prolonged passage of blood through an artificial lung. After successfully achieving a cardiac bypass in cats, Gibbon began to use the procedure in treating dogs with heart problems. By the early 1950’s, Gibbon was able to reduce the death rate in dogs by almost 12% using his cardiac bypass technique. After his great medical achievement in dogs, he felt confident enough to perform the first open heart surgery procedure on an 18-year-old girl. The girl suffered from right heart failure due to an atrial septal defect. Gibbon performed her procedure in 45 minutes and that girl lived for many years afterward. Although his procedure was successful, there were still many issues that made open heart surgery a very risky procedure.


One of the early problems in the experimentation of open heart surgery procedures was that the heart would continue to beat throughout the surgery. This caused large amounts of blood to leak and this made it very difficult for surgeons to operate. While studying the procedure on dogs, rats, and rabbits, scientists discovered that a potassium citrate could safely stop the heart beat and cold cardioplegia would protect it while in that state. Other things, such as the replacement of heart valves, were also tested in dogs, rats, guinea pigs, and rabbits. Minimally invasive surgery was later tested and developed in young pigs. These pigs were used to test the suturing of bilioenteric anastomoses, which showed bile satisfactory after ligation of the common bile duct.


Without the animal experimentation that encouraged the technique of open heart surgery, people with heart defects would not live to a full age. When I was only 18 months old, my doctor diagnosed me with right heart failure due to an atrial septal defect. This is the same defect that the 18-year-old girl had who underwent the first open heart surgery. After my diagnosis, my parents took me to see a cardiologist. My cardiologist decided that my best chance at living a full life was for me to undergo open heart surgery. He suggested that my parents wait until I was two years old to get the procedure, due to my small and fragile heart. On April 25, 2003 I was placed on a hospital bed and rolled into the operating room. That day was the day I received the open-heart surgery that saved my life.


People who suffer from atrial septal defect are only expected to live to approximately the age of 23. With the creation of open heart surgery, the age limit has grown to about three times as much. Thanks to the research and experiments preformed on animals, people like me are able to accomplish their dreams. We are able to live life to the fullest and have many opportunities to benefit the world around us. Because of open heart surgery, people who suffer from heart defects will no longer have a fear of the future, but rather have every reason to smile. Without biomedical research on animals, I would have no chance at accomplishing my dreams. Not only has biomedical research benefited my life, but it saved my life and it continues to save thousands of lives every day.

Neurobiology Hamm Laboratory at Barrow Neurological Institute


My Summer Experience in the Lab


Assisting in surgical procedures is a dream for any aspiring veterinarian. While working at the lab this summer, that was only one of the many things that I had privilege of doing. For my summer internship, I was honored with the opportunity to work in the Spinal Motor Systems Lab located within the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital. This lab is dedicated to looking at the effects of incomplete spinal cord injury with experimentation focused on rats. I learned about spinal cord nerves in rats and the network of cells that help control movements such as walking and running.

One of the primary responsibilities that I had at the lab was doing video analysis and determining the amount of coordination that the rats had. I had to watch video footage of a rat crossing a flat, glass platform and record every time that the rat put a foot down and raised it up. For the first few weeks of my internship, I recorded the coordination on paper. After a few weeks, a new online program was created that I used to calculate the amount of coordination in the rat.

Another one of my favorite experiences in the lab was testing all the rats. Every Monday morning, we would give the rats five different tests. The first test is called the open field test because the rat gets to run freely in a small, isolated field. This test is used to determine the rat’s coordination, toe clearance, and movement within the hip, knee, and ankle. The next test is known as the flat internal reflection. The rat walks across a flat, glass platform while a light is being shined to make the paws glow on camera. The flat platform test is the same test with the exception of the light. These tests are used to conclude if the rat truly has coordination when it walks. The ladder rung test is a flat ladder that the rats stumble across. With this test, we can see if the rat is able to steadily walk across the ladder of if it is stumbling due to its temporary paralysis. Finally, the grid walk is a test that determines the rat’s stability based on their ability to walk across a ladder structure.

The surgeries that took place in the lab were by far my favorite experience this summer. I was able to take vital signs for all of the surgeries and even assist in some of them. There were two surgeries that took place in the lab this summer. There was the original surgery, resulting in the spinal injury, as well as the terminal surgery. The terminal surgery is when electrodes are administered into the spinal cord to catch motor neurons. Besides the live surgeries, I was also given the opportunity to try the surgical procedures myself! I was able to perform the surgical procedures on a deceased rat which helped me to practice my surgical techniques for the first time.

I have had many summer experiences over the years, but this summer has been my absolute favorite! Being an intern at the Spinal Motor Systems Lab went from being a dream to a reality. I learned so many new and extraordinary things while working in the lab this summer. I met many great people and am glad to call some of them my friends. Most importantly, I realized the truth about biomedical research and how crucial it is to discovering new things! I was finally able to understand how well treated and spoiled all the animals are in the labs. I did not once witness any animal abuse, which is a common misconception to people who aren’t involved in biomedical research. By the end of my internship, I have found myself being more interested in biomedical research and more knowledgeable about how it works. Thank you to all of my amazing mentors that helped to educate me and guide me through my experience in the lab! It was the very best opportunity that I have ever been given!