“How many deer can say they donated their body to science?” Kimberly Shearn poses this question as she reflects on bringing a deer heart into her echocardiography IV class for dissection. She was driving on Oct. 19 at about 6:40 a.m. on her way to observe at a cardiology office for the day, when she was hit with a unique opportunity for hands-on experience.
Shearn, a University of Findlay echocardiography student from Fremont, was driving west on U.S. 20 from Fremont toward Toledo, when an 8-point buck jumped into the road and collided with the driver’s front-end side of her car. While her 2015 Honda CRV was totaled, she was not injured.
After pulling to the side of the road and receiving help from the State Highway Patrol, Shearn called her husband to bring his truck to load up the deer. Shearn’s father and her husband, both hunters, dressed the deer in her backyard. As a student studying the heart, Shearn was impressed with what she saw. “They cut the heart out and it was beautiful,” she said. When her husband asked if she’d be interested in using the heart for class, she messaged her instructor to ask if she could bring it in to dissect.
Sarah Niese, an echocardiography instructor at the University of Findlay, got a message from Shearn with a picture of the heart, asking if they could use it in class. Excited to give her students some hands-on experience, Niese gave Shearn the green light to bring the heart in. Since their class size is small, Niese likes to keep a personal contact with her students. “I think they appreciate it, Niese said. “I appreciate that I’m close enough with them that then they also give me good feedback about how I’m doing or what they want to see changed.” This positive rapport made Shearn feel comfortable enough to ask if she could bring the heart into class.
“I thought that was a pretty cool experience,” Niese said. “Not every day do you get to do that. I was happy that we had the opportunity to get our hands dirty for the day.”
The reaction Shearn got from her classmates was positive, and they were all looking forward to dissecting the deer heart. While some of the students in the class were hesitant, many of them were comfortable because they also had hunters in their families.
“They all really liked it, whether or not they wanted to touch it or not, which is understandable,” Niese said. “But they were all very thankful that we had that opportunity to do that.”
“After the shock, I thought it was really cool,” classmate Gabby Hickey said.
Once they began dissecting the heart, they were able to identify all the parts and compare the deer heart to the donor hearts they had seen in the University of Findlay’s cadaver lab. They were appreciative to see what all the parts in the heart look like and feel like, Niese said. “The blood was still in the heart, so not only did they get to see the texture of the heart, but what blood looks like when it clots.”
As someone who never liked to see deer dead on the side of the road, Shearn was grateful that the deer didn’t die in vain, and that his body served multiple purposes after his death. “Not only could we use this deer as a food source, but we could also use his heart for teaching purposes,” she said.
Overall, during Shearn’s time at the University of Findlay, she has felt inspired by the faculty and staff, which in turn made her feel comfortable with taking on hands-on experiences, even when those opportunities jump out of nowhere like a deer in headlights.