A mother’s gift helps improve students’ cardiac exam skills

totiWhen Maruchi Suquet Mendez met Harvey there was an immediate connection. Harvey is a sophisticated cardiopulmonary patient simulator used to teach medical students how to develop and improve their cardiac examination skills. Mendez is a mother, who 15 years later, still grieves the loss of her son from sudden cardiac death. Mendez and Harvey are now partners.

“Through Harvey I was able to listen to a normal heart, and I was able to listen to a heart with cardiomyopathy,” Mendez says. “I cried.”

Ramiro “Toti” Mendez, a sophomore pitcher with the FIU Panthers, was 20 when he died suddenly April 2, 2000, from cardiomyopathy. FIU retired his jersey, number 23.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), cardiomyopathy refers to diseases of the heart muscle, and there are several types. Some people have no signs or symptoms, for other people symptoms develop quickly and become severe. There can be heart failure. Death.

Mendez is partnering with the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine and Harvey in the hopes of saving other parents the heartache she and her family have been through. The Mendez family has made a $115,000 gift that will allow two rooms in the Albert and Debbie Tano Simulation Center to be dedicated in Toti’s name. Each room will house a full-size Harvey mannequin.

The dedication ceremony will take place Monday, Oct. 19. Among those scheduled to speak is family friend and U.S. Representative Carlos Curbelo. Toti and Curbelo met while attending Belen Jesuit Middle School and remained friends until Toti’s untimely death.

“We’re going to try to encourage students to spend more time practicing their cardiac examination skills by providing them with a dedicated space to study and practice with the Harveys and requiring them to log in additional hours on the simulators starting next year,” says Vivian Obeso, M.D., assistant dean for curriculum and medical education and the simulation center director.

Right now the Harveys are used as part of clinical skills training, but then they go into storage until they are needed again. The idea is that by making them more accessible and building the additional hours into the curriculum, students will become more proficient in auscultation (listening to the internal sounds of the body using a stethoscope) to the benefit of their future patients.

“I read that auscultation is becoming a lost art because of technology. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Mendez says.

In fact, a stethoscope can be the first to alert a doctor to heart trouble and some types of cardiomyopathy. The NIH says, “the loudness, timing and location of a heart murmur may suggest obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. A ‘crackling’ sound in the lungs may be a sign of heart failure. (Heart failure often develops in the later stages of cardiomyopathy.)”

And Harvey is a very good teacher for a medical student. He can simulate 30 different cardiac conditions including cardiomyopathy.

“A weak heart, for example,” Obeso says, “starts to malfunction. It might become enlarged. Volume and pressures change and you can practice detecting these changes – distended neck veins, abnormal pulsation – on Harvey . You can  hear leaky valves or valves that have become stenotic over time. You can detect these findings. Then the student has to determine why this is happening and put it all together.”

The family’s donation also will fund an annual scholarship to be given to a medical student who demonstrates financial need and writes an essay on the importance of the art of auscultation.

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