Playing doctor got real serious Tuesday for fifth-graders at Gold Camp Elementary School.

Drinking alcohol and skateboarding without a helmet serious.

Blood and guts serious.

During the middle of a talk Dr. Tiffany Willard was giving in the school library about how substance abuse and other bad choices can lead to trauma situations, her pager surprisingly went off.

Uh oh. Some students eyed each other nervously, while others looked curious.

The Memorial Hospital trauma surgeon kicked into high gear, as medical students brought in a mannequin simulating a teen who got hurt in a crash after drinking and getting on his skateboard while tethered to a moving car that a friend had stolen from his parents. Students were instructed to quickly put on scrubs, masks and gloves and work on saving the 14-year-old "patient," in a scenario based on a case Willard had handled in her job.

"It's really life-like," said 10-year-old McKinley Milliron. "I like how everyone gets to participate in the different things. They brought something for everyone to visualize what it's like to be a real surgeon."

Students took turns performing CPR using hand and bag compressions and drilling into a vein to insert an IV into the mannequin.

Isaiah Stall, 10, was eager to do his part.

"It's very cool," he said. "It feels like an experiment to experience what a doctor does."

Sadly, Willard said, the boy in real life survived, but he sustained brain damage and will never be the same.

Students also performed a "surgery," using scalpels and sutures, to figure out what another simulated patient had swallowed. They cut into pig skin that gushed vampire blood, rooted around to locate a toy the child had ingested and sewed up the incision.

Tyler Roberts, 11, got splattered with fake blood.

"I was in shock. It exploded everywhere," he said. "This is really fun and interesting. I've learned a lot."

That's the point, Willard said.

"We're doing research to find out what is the right age to talk to kids (about the consequences of making bad decisions), and we're thinking fifth-graders retain the most," she said. "It's a reality for them."

Fifth-grade students also are studying the body's systems, said Michael Norris, principal of Gold Camp Elementary, in Cheyenne Mountain School District 12.

"To combine that in a hands-on way is really powerful - they retain a lot from this than just testing," he said.

Willard has given presentations at local elementary schools for four years. It began when Willard was asked by her niece to speak at her school, Discovery Canyon Campus in Academy School District 20.

The popular program includes Willard going over the body's various systems and looking at how the body reacts to situations such as sunburn, dehydration or alcohol.

"I really appreciate her working to make it relevant to the choices they'll have as they become teenagers and helping them understand the impact it'll have in those decisions," Norris said.

Willard guided students in learning why drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, taking drugs, not wearing helmets, mouth guards and seatbelts, and texting or talking on the phone while driving are occasions to stop and rethink the action.

"The biggest takeaway point is when faced with a choice, make the right choice about your body," she said. "Some of the kids I taught two and three years ago say they still remember everything."

Gold Camp Elementary parent Delaine Jones said the program provides a rare opportunity for kids to see what a surgeon does on a daily basis.

"It opens their eyes; my son wouldn't stop talking about it," she said. "He shared everything, so it obviously had an impact."


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