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story.lead_photo.caption Dr. Chris Dougherty answers questions Thursday, after performing an ACL procedure on a cadaver leg at Bentonville’s Arend Arts Center. - Photo by Jason Ivester

BENTONVILLE -- More than 200 high school students gathered in the Arend Arts Center on Thursday to watch a doctor perform surgery live on stage.

Chris Dougherty, an orthopedic surgeon in Bentonville, explained each step to his audience as he repaired the anterior cruciate ligament -- more commonly referred to as an ACL -- in a leg from a cadaver. He called the ACL the "main stabilizer" in the knee. It can tear easily, he said.

ACL injuries

The ACL can be injured if your knee joint is bent backward, twisted, or bent side to side, according to The chance of injury is higher if more than one of these movements occurs at the same time. ACL injuries often occur in sports. The injury can happen when the foot is firmly planted on the ground and a sudden force hits the knee while the leg is straight or slightly bent.


Dougherty's work, as captured by the surgical camera he used, was displayed on a big screen above the stage, giving students an up-close look at the inside of the leg and what the doctor was doing to it.

"If you're pretty good at video games, you'd probably make a good surgeon," Dougherty said, referring to the hand-eye coordination involved.

During the procedure, which took about 30 minutes, Dougherty explained a particular way in which doctors have refined their approach to the surgery.

"It doesn't mean we were doing it wrong. We just didn't know any better 10 years ago," he said.

The students who came to watch were mostly those enrolled in Bentonville High School's sports medicine and medical professions classes and others with an interest in science. They sat in silence as they watched.

When the procedure was over, Dougherty took questions. One boy asked about the failure rate of ACL procedures.

"There is a failure rate. Regardless of the surgery, regardless of the technique, there's a 10 percent failure rate," Dougherty said. He then described methods of fixing the ACL that are "doomed to fail," using the cadaver leg to assist with his explanation.

Another student asked how soon after the procedure a patient is able to move the affected knee. It depends in part on how much work has to be done to the meniscus, cartilage in the knee that protects the joint.

"The meniscus alone might take me an hour or an hour and a half to put back together if it's bad," Dougherty said. "You don't want to be that guy."

Kathryn Self, a senior enrolled this semester in a sports medicine II class, was among those who turned out for the surgery.

"(Dougherty) went through it really thoroughly and people asked really good questions," Self said.

Kembra Mathis, an athletic trainer who teaches sports medicine classes at Bentonville High School, requested the surgical demonstration, which was arranged by Arthrex and Midsouth Orthopedics. It was provided free to the school, she said.

"It's great to show kids something like this to pique their interest in some kind of career, so they have something to strive for," Mathis said.

Mathis' classes just completed a lower-body assessment study, which is why the ACL was chosen as the surgical subject Thursday.

After the surgery, a select group of about 60 students had the chance to rotate through stations where they could learn more about arthroscopic tools, joint replacement and post-operative care.

Ruby Magana, a senior and an aspiring neurosurgeon, pulled on some gloves at one of those stations to feel inside the leg on which Dougherty had operated. The experience validated her career interests, she said.

"Being here actually makes me want to be a surgeon more," she said.

At another station, students got to test their surgical skills by using a laproscope in one hand and a grasping tool in the other. Their goal was to move pieces of candy that were inside a box from one bowl to another; the only way they could see what they were doing was by watching it on a video screen.

"When you try to do it yourself, you realize it takes a lot of skill and effort to do something like that," said Brodie Hill, a senior who wants to be a physical therapist. "The camera is flipped. Left is right and right is left. So it's harder than it looks."

Dougherty, who has two children at Bentonville High School, is the head physician for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. He said he has performed at least 1,000 ACL surgeries during his career.

He was happy with the way the surgery went Thursday and was pleased with the event overall.

"This is awesome. It gives kids a chance early on to see if this is something they'd be interested in," Dougherty said.

NW News on 12/11/2015

Print Headline: High school students receive surgical lesson


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