Kids ‘operate' at Primary Children's Medical Center

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A shout came from an operating room at Primary Children's Medical Center from a giggling would-be surgeon who was operating a drill used for brain surgery.

"Ahh! We got brain juice!"

Ten-year-old Gabby Delamare of West Jordan was among a steady stream of visitors invited on Saturday to tour operating rooms and other parts of the hospital normally off limits to anyone but doctors and patients.

For one day, every other year, the hospital invites children to learn about and operate surgical tools on some very unlikely "patients" — fruit, vegetables, candy and plastic gloves filled with water. Thousands typically take the hospital up on the offer to visit.

We do this to give kids an opportunity, when they are well, to see how things work here and not be intimidated.

–Carolyn Ellis

Under the direction of hospital personnel and wearing protective eye wear, Delamare used a spinning drill to carefully cut away the shell of an egg, trying to only cut through the shell and not break through the thin membrane underneath.

"I got to use a drill and try to not crack the egg," Delamare said.

With a yoke-covered towel and bits of egg shell scattered on a small table, it appeared that the success rate for others trying the exercise was low. The experience mimics, to some extent, how surgeons cut away parts of a human skull, careful to not break through thin protective layers around the brain.

"We do this to give kids an opportunity, when they are well, to see how things work here and not be intimidated," said Carolyn Ellis, a nurse manager. "It's our way to show them health care and realize it's not an intimidating place to come. We want to let the public know what we do here."

Real cow and pig hearts were on display for children to touch and examine.

"I touched it in the middle," 7-year-old Brandon Wall of Woods Cross said with a grimace after touching the big cow heart. "Gross."

Brandon's mother, Jodilyn Wall, brought her children to help them see that they could be at ease in a hospital — especially Brandon, who has already undergone surgery and returns to the hospital regularly for tests.

"I want them to understand how things work at the hospital so they aren't afraid. It's not as scary as it seems," Wall said.

Visitors were able to use a cusa, a machine used to extract tumors, to suck meat out of a grapefruit; watch electric shock waves, which are used to break up kidney stones, break peppermints into tiny pieces; drill screws into plastic skulls; and perform "surgery" by removing water-filled plastic gloves from the stomach of a mannequin among various other activities.

The young surgeons for a day, dressed and drowning in adult-sized scrubs, peeked over their face masks, peered through protective eye gear and snapped on plastic gloves as they eagerly asked questions and listened to the hospital staff explain each procedure in language that was on their level.

"Sometimes, if you have a really sick belly, the doctor wants you to feel better. They say, "Oh no! Your belly is sick! Lets get the sick out," one nurse explained to a group of small children as she demonstrated a laparoscopy surgery using a clear box, to represent a stomach, and extracted strings inside to represent sickness.

Robert Graham, a registered nurse for the past 22 years at Primary Children's, said, "This gets the kids and the public in to see a place that is off limits. Parents send their children in and they don't get to follow them. The children (that enter) are usually asleep. This gives them a chance to see."



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