Nichols eighth-grader Nadia Thorman-McKey tries out remote-controlled surgical equipment in the Medical Education Simulation Lab, with instruction from Dr. Marko Jachtorowycz.

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Twenty-six eighth-grade students from Evanston’s Nichols Middle School visited Presence Saint Francis Hospital on May 28. The trip was a reward for raising money for the hospital’s Patient-and-Family-Centered Care Initiatives as part of the Nichols Has Heart Walk-a-thon, a yearly event in memory of Nichols teacher Sandy McDermott, who died of a heart attack in 2008. The students toured the simulation lab, learned about robotic surgery and even tried a robotic simulation.

“The community is neat – it’s giving back in honor of their teacher,” said Nancy Stermer, director of Patient-and-Family-Centered Care at Presence Saint Francis. “These kids, through their generosity, will have a chance to touch someone’s life, someone they will never know. They’re trying to keep [Ms. McDermott’s] spirit alive, and [the] teachers keep recreating that. Teachers see qualities of [Sandy] McDermott in the kids, and they’re trying to develop leadership in the [kids].”

The students’ generosity is remarkable, but they are not the only ones giving back. Presence Saint Francis is an academic medical center, which means that the surgeons who work there teach surgeons in residency training. So it was no surprise that two practicing physicians from Presence Saint Francis and two residents took time out of their work day to give the students unique exposure to the field of medicine.

“It’s a great way for kids to learn about not just medicine, but new technology, and encourage them to be involved and increase their knowledge about medicine,” said Teresa Tam, M.D., the doctor who taught the students about robotic surgery. “They’re the future. To have technology like this in the operating room is something that never existed when I was in medical school.”

“It’s an opportunity to build bonds between a hospital and the community,” said Marko Jachtorowycz, M.D., the other physician who participated.

The students used the same simulation lab as actual surgeons. They had the opportunity to operate a robotic surgery simulator on lifelike mannequins and learned how to perform “straight stick” laparoscopic surgery in a simulation, while using actual surgical tools.

The Nichols teachers said they enjoyed the opportunity as much as the students did. Nichols teacher Megan McDermott, whose husband is the cousin of the late Sandy McDermott, said the trip helped the students learn.

“They get to be exposed to things that I can’t expose them to in the classroom,” Megan McDermott said. “They see that the things we learn in class are important outside [the classroom].”
 
“It’s a better way of learning new things,” Nichols student Demontre Eason said. Demontre added that he helped with the school bake sale and went door-to-door to raise money.

The Walk-a-thon, a school-wide event that took place on May 30, has raised over $120,000 in the past six years. The goal for this year’s Walk-a-thon was $20,000. Fifty percent of money raised goes to the Sandy McDermott Scholarship Fund, 25% to the Nichols Parent and Teacher Association, and 25% to Presence Saint Francis.

The McDermott Scholarship is for Evanston Township High School graduates who also attended Nichols. Each year, two senior boys and two senior girls are selected as recipients of the scholarship, which includes $2,000 toward college tuition. About 30 students applied for the scholarship this year.