Kayhi diagnoisis

Janelle Nery and Princess Talinting examine their pigs during their anatomy and physiology class at Kayhi on Monday, May 22, 2023.

Staff photo by Christopher Mullen

Ketchikan High School science teacher Frankie Urquhart led her anatomy and physiology class students on Monday afternoon through one of a series of lessons on medical diagnostics.

Trays holding fetal pigs sat in front of each senior student in the class, and the younger students awaited instructions from Urquhart on the other side of the classroom.

Each senior had chosen from a list of provided diseases to simulate in their pigs before opening the pigs' abdomens and chests. When they'd opened up their pigs, they placed color-coded "orbeez" beads inside the organs to demonstrate the type of disease it was simulating. By Monday, the pigs had been coded and sutured by the seniors in preparation for the younger students to then autopsy and diagnose.

At Urquhart's request, senior Lindsay Byron told the class that she had chosen abdominal sepsis for her pig. When Urquhart asked Byron to list the symptoms that her pig might have presented with, Byron listed stomach pain, fatigue, drowsiness and vomiting. Byron noted that her pig would have been diagnosed with appendicitis, which triggered the sepsis.

"So she's creating a patient's chart on what they would come to see her for as a health care professional," Urquhart said.

Urquhart explained that the purpose of the class was to prepare students for a medical career.

She further explained that the students were asked to document approximately three potential diseases that the "patients" could have when presenting the chosen symptoms, as well as the tests that would narrow the diagnosis down to the correct one.

When the younger students receive the pigs, they will be tasked with opening them up to examine them and find the beads. The color and location of the beads allow for the students to hypothesize what sickened the pig. After writing notes detailing their examination processes and their initial diagnoses, those students will receive the patient charts that were created by the seniors to allow them to choose the correct tests to nail down to the final diagnosis.

Byron spoke about the project as Urquhart worked with the younger students to prepare them for working with the pigs.

When asked what had been the most challenging part of working with the pigs, she said that it was the suturing process.

She said that she'd learned how to suture last school year in Kayhi's medical terminology class. Nurses from PeaceHealth visited the class and led them through the process.

The most enjoyable part of the anatomy and physiology class, Byron said, had been "getting to learn everything about it, it's just fun."

Byron said, however, that she is planning to study law and forensics in college.

Urquhart prepared the younger students for their role in the project, outlining the diagnosis process.

She asked them to list the potential diagnoses they'd note, for instance, if they opened their pig and saw red beads — representing blood clots — inside of the heart. The students listed heart attack, damaged valves and stroke.

"What are you going to need to know after that?" Urquhart asked the students.

They answered that the patient's symptoms would be the next facts to note, which would lead to their initial diagnoses.

"What other evidence will you need to know to move from your provisional — your first diagnosis — to your differential diagnosis?" Urquhart asked next.

The students answered that they'd need the patient's medical file that would include information about tests that had been done and the results of those tests. Also included in the patient's file would be the physician's notes about what they found upon the examination of the patient, Urquhart added.

Finally, Urquhart told the students, they needed to write down the evidence they'd found to support their final diagnosis.

Urquhart told the students to supply evidence in their reports to support their final diagnoses, including what they saw in the pig during the autopsy, the noted symptoms, and the test results.

"I want to know your thought process," she said.

Senior Ella Stockhausen talked about her experience with the project, with her pig displayed on her desk in front of her.

"My pig, I'm giving it cystic fibrosis, so it has mucous in the lungs, trachea and pancreas, and so I have little green beads in there," she said.

She, like Byron, said that the most difficult task had been suturing the pig's abdomen. Her stitches were tiny and neat, and she said that although it was her first experience with suturing, she has done some sewing before.

The most fun part of the project, Stockhausen said, was "just being able to choose what disease to do, and having my own independent thought process."

She said that she does plan to go into the healthcare field, and is enrolled in Gordon College near Boston this fall to study speech pathology.

Stockhausen said that she decided to study speech pathology "because it's a mix of education and the medical field, so I can be in schools or hospitals — there's so many job opportunities and I can work with anyone of any age and it's just helping people access the human right of communication — that's kind of like why I was like, 'Oh, that's cool.'"

She said that the anatomy and physiology class forced her out of her comfort zone, which was a positive experience.

"A year ago I would have been like, 'Whoa!'" she said, laughing as she gestured to her pig.

Senior Janelle Nery, with her pig that she named "Mr. Smelly Pig" resting in front of her, talked about her experiences in the class.

"I really like how we get to suture and use medical stuff like scalpels; we used the needles and all that stuff for sutures, because I'm really into the medical field and I watch a lot of medical TV shows, so I'm really into medical stuff, so I really like this class," she said.

Nery said that she plans to study radiology and ultrasound technology when she begins college in the fall. She plans to start with online prerequisite courses through the University of Alaska Anchorage before enrolling in a more distant college.

She added that she was inspired to enter a medical career by her older sisters and acquaintances who have done so.

"I just got really inspired about how they work with people, and customer service, like, how they treat people too," she said.

She gestured to her table mate, senior Princess Talinting, and noted that they'd earned their Certified Nursing Assistant certifications last year, allowing them to gain experience while working in the PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center Long Term Care facility. Nery said that she hopes to enter a Certified Medical Assistant apprenticeship in the near future.

The studying required to succeed in Urquhart's class was the biggest challenge for her, Nery said. Memorizing the medical terms took some work, she explained. She said that she also had taken the Kayhi medical terminology class during the last school year.

Talinting's pig, which she had dubbed "George Junior," also rested in front of her.

Unlike Nery, Talinting said that her favorite experience while taking the class had been the studying required.

"We get a chance to know other types of diseases, and know other types of symptoms," she said, adding, "we get a chance to research and study about it."

The most difficult aspect of the class for Talinting, she said, was simply choosing a disease for her pig.

She said that she'd finally settled on tuberculosis for George Junior.

"I focused on respiratory systems," she said.

Talinting said that she also plans to complete her prerequisite classes through UAA with a plan to transfer to a college to study nursing.

Sophomore Ty Woods sat at his desk with his laptop in front of him, anticipating the arrival of his "diseased" pig.

He said that he'd been part of the group of students working recently on a reproductive system project. During the course of the school year, the class had been studying each body system one at a time in preparation for the fetal pig autopsies and diagnoses.

Studying the endocrine system was the most challenging topic for him, Woods said, as it's a very complex system.

Woods explained, "I took this class because, later in my career and courses I want to be a firefighter/paramedic," Woods said. "And, later on I want to become a doctor, cardiologist, but probably go more down the firefighter/paramedic line."

He said that he is too young to volunteer at one of the fire departments now, but next year he plans to join North Tongass Volunteer Fire Department and to attain the education necessary to meet his goals.

He said that he plans to take Kayhi's medical terminology class during his senior year.

Woods said of Urquhart's class, "I've really enjoyed doing the projects that we've been doing, and working through it, and then those case studies that she gives us — I like diagnosing the patient — that's pretty fun. I'm kind of one of those people who are watching doctor shows and like to diagnose the patient before the doctor does. I like the case studies and the projects."