Liberty Middle School fifth graders performed "brain surgery" on styrofoam heads as part of a science class project.

Middle school fifth graders have a lot of activities during the year but for a couple of days this week, Liberty Middle School students were tackling something very different. They were performing brain surgery.

The students in Connie Schartz fifth grade science class had to really stretch themselves as they took on the role of physicians and did "brain surgery" on styrofoam head patients.

Before surgery week, students had to research healthy brains, brain lobes and what each does plus different types of brain surgery. They also had to research which type of material, aluminum, nylon or plastic mesh, was best to make the repairs to the skull, Schartz said.

Once the surgery was over, Schartz would drop a weight on the repair to test it. Students will follow up by establishing rehab program for their patients, such as speech therapy, physical therapy and so on, depending on the location of the injury

Schartz received a $100 South Central Community Foundation teacher's grant to purchase the supplies necessary for the "surgery."

The class was divided into teams and given a surgery kit and a patient (styrofoam skull). They also had gloves, face masks and hair covers provided by Pratt Regional Medical Center. Students had to record their procedure and keep track of all supplies used, Schartz said.

Then it was time to operate. Schartz had removed portions of the skull about the size of a golf ball in different locations for each team. The teams had to make the thickness of the skull, apply one of the three mesh types then fill the void making sure to go no deeper than the skull thickness or it would touch the brain. Student Allie Hoeme said it was harder to measure the depth and length of the hole because it was on a curved surface.

Spackling compound acted as the filler for the hole in the skull. Screws were provided to attach the mesh to the skull. Students had one hour to complete the surgery and the paperwork.

The brain surgery is part of the human body unit. With students participating in sports at younger ages, the brain section helps teach students that brain injuries can be serious, said Schartz who learned a lot about brain injuries during the research.

Students also learned a lot about the brain. Grayson Hoener said he was surprised to find that nylon mesh was used more often than plastic mesh to repair brain injuries.

Keri Fitzsimmons said she didn't realize just how fragile the brain was and how small the space was between the brain and the skull.

During the surgery, students discovered how hard it was to get the mesh to stay in place and keep the repair compound with the limits so it didn't get into the brain itself. Rileigh Qualls said cutting the mesh and getting it to fit over the wound was hared then she expected.

Ethan Martinez said putting in the screws was hard. It took a lot of work to prevent them from falling over.

When students researched brain injuries, they were surprised how much damage the brain could take and person still live. Elissa Ford said she read about a steel rod that went through a man's head and he survived. She learned that some brain injuries will not kill the person and they can recover from the injury.

Part of the purpose of this project was to teach students that the brain is fragile and they need to be careful about head injuries plus the damage drugs can do to the brain also.

"Once those cells are dead, they are gone forever," Schartz said.

She hopes the lesson may light a spark and encourage someone to become a doctor.

@GaleR_Tribune