Advanced Bio students practice setting bones

Dr. Peter Hyde’s Advanced Biology students practiced setting fractures and suturing wounds in lab on April 11. Several Small Fracture Sets provided a model skeletal forearm with a radial fracture ready to be plated, drilled, and screwed together, while bananas with their peels split stood in for skin wounds to be stitched up.

“Don’t eat the bananas,” Dr. Hyde warned his students as they streamed in with the mod six bell. Their guest was Dr. R. Malcolm Smith (father of Billy Smith I), chief of Orthopaedic Trauma Service at Mass General Hospital and associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Smith cares for and treats traumatically injured patients with fractures, dislocations, and major soft tissue injuries, as well as patients with disorders or injuries of the spine.

Dr. Smith began with a couple of graphic videos of car accidents that portrayed the consequences of not using a seatbelt. (Often, it is someone in the backseat, not using a seatbelt, whose catapulting body causes the death of a seat-belted front seat passenger.) As someone who encounters these victims in his daily work, Dr. Smith spoke emphatically and without apology: “Use your seatbelt. We can fix bones,” he said, “but soft tissue and head injuries are way more difficult.”

The boys then split up into small groups around the banana-suture stations and the fracture stations to practice a bit of orthopaedic surgery. Billy, who spent last summer working at MGH’s Department of Surgery Trauma Lab, assisted with the suturing—how to stitch up the split banana peel using forceps, needle, thread, and tweezers and the special procedure for tying the knot. In May Billy begins his Independent Senior Project at the same MGH lab.

Assisting Dr. Smith at the Small Fracture Sets were Bob Whitley and Matt Messer, both from Synthes, the company that manufactures the fracture sets. A set consists of a life-sized skeletal forearm and hand, where the radius has a clean oblique fracture. Small metal plates, cortical screws, a drill, and tools to bend the plates to fit the curve of the fractured radius complete the set. The bones look real, but are made from compressed sawdust. In terms of their usefulness as a practice tool, they are softer than actual bone, but still give the sensation of a real bone.

All the boys had a chance to try their hand at suturing and setting bone; some may have been surprised at how challenging it turned out to be. (See photos from the class.)

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