'Freaking me out': Students dissect cat, learn how the body works

News-DemocratJune 7, 2013 

— Sporting goggles and blue latex gloves, Tia Perkins, Carina Chalmers and Morgan Wills gently touches the larynx or voice box of a cat dissected by medical student Patrick Fitzgerald. All three girls are 11 years old and will be sixth-graders at Whiteside Middle School next year.

Maddie Cawvey and Paige Chiumento, who are also Whiteside students, didn't mind watching the dissection Thursday morning, but didn't want to touch any part of the cat provided by the biology department at Lindenwood University in Belleville.

The five Whiteside students were part of the Little Medical School, a four-day summer camp held at Lindenwood. The camp was sponsored by a business and provided at no cost to the students, according to Andrea Frazier, director of Lindenwood College for Individualized Education. She said the Little Medical School introduces students to the "exciting and inspiring world of medicine."

Fitzgerald, who will be attending Southern Illinois University's School of Medicine in the fall, served as the instructor for the school. The Alton resident recently graduated from Notre Dame University in Indiana with a bachelor's of science degree.

Cat dissection isn't typically part of the Little Medical School's curriculum, according to Fitzgerald. "Lindenwood gave us one of their extra cats to dissect, and the kids wanted to do that," he said.

"I made a big mistake," Maddie said as she entered the biology lab with the cat nicknamed "Mr. Mittens" lying on a metal tray placed on a lab table. The cat's name was quickly changed to "Mrs. Mittens" when the students discovered it was a girl.

Both Maddie and Paige had to step in the hall several times to get some fresh air as Fitzgerald dissected the cat.

At one point, Maddie said, "it's face is just freaking me out right now."

Prior to the cat dissection, the students learned about the 206 bones that make-up the human body. Fitzgerald said babies are born with over 300 bones and overtime bones next to each other fuse together. He explained girls start and stop growing sooner than boys do.

The Whiteside students also learned about the different parts of the bone, which include periosteum, compact bone and the bone marrow. On several occasions Thursday morning, Fitzgerald would stop and spell a medical term for a student who asked. Some of the girls were taking notes.

Fun games broke up the mini lessons Fitzgerald provided. During a game of Bingo, Fitzgerald reviewed medical terminology and body parts with the students. Paige wrote "Dr. Paige" on the top of her bingo card. She is aspiring to be a pharmacist or nutritionist.

Like Paige, the other four girls are also interested in careers in the medical field. Morgan wants to be a pediatrician or a cancer researcher. Carina aspires to be a sports physician. Maddie is interested in becoming a surgeon, and Tia would like to be an eye doctor.

Following the bingo game, Fitzgerald explained the process of becoming a doctor, which includes four years of undergraduate study and four years of medical school followed by more schooling depending on what type of doctor you want to be. "The more complex things you want to do the longer you need to go to school," he said.

The students also had the opportunity to closely examine a sheep kidney. "Eww...gross," Maddie, 9, exclaimed. Maddie was the youngest student in attendance at the school. She will be going into the fourth grade next year.

Both Tia and Carina said they enjoyed learning about how organs work and what each organ does. "I didn't know that the kidney helps filter out the urine," Morgan said.

Fitzgerald said he hopes the Little Medical School gets the students "thinking differently" and "sparks some interest for them" in how the body works.

Fitzgerald shared interesting tidbits of information with the students, which they were eager to share including why a pirate wears an eye patch. Maddie explained a pirate wears an patch so one eye is accumulated to the darkness, and he can see in the dark better by simply moving the patch to the other eye.

Lindenwood is interested in hosting a Little Medical School Class 2 for the students who attended this year's program, according to Frazier, next summer as well as another session of Little Medical School.

For more information about the St. Louis-based Little Medical School program, visit http://www.littlemedicalschool.com.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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