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Man or machine?
Incredible high-tech human simulator improves medical training

The man lying on the operating table looks like an ordinary patient. His chest moves up and down as he breathes. A heart monitor blips out his pulse as an IV dangles from his arm. Then, suddenly, the patient's chest heaves frantically, he stops breathing and physicians rush to intubate. They slide a tube into the patient's airway as he lets out a groan.

Fortunately, he's only made of plastic and computer wires. He is the Laerdal SimMan™, a life-sized, computerized mannequin that will revolutionize medical training at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC).

"This is cutting-edge technology," said Leonid Bunegin, associate professor in the department of anesthesiology. "We are one of only 18 medical schools in the country and the only one in Texas using this type of anesthesia simulation technology." It is the only system of its kind in San Antonio.

The SimMan™ is a high-fidelity simulator, which means it actually reacts to procedures the same way a live patient would. The mannequin has palpable pulses, audible heart tones, breathes, and can even respond verbally with moans, groans and complaints. He is the size of the average man, but doctors can program him to fit any biological profile.

"The SimMan™ can respond physiologically to a wide range of anesthetics and drugs, allowing the trainee to understand the action and interactions of drugs before applying them to a human patient," Bunegin said.

Previously, students were taught anesthesiology procedures on live patients and were limited to the cases on hand. "With the SimMan™, we can create a complete set of scenarios that mimic any complication a student may encounter in a clinical setting," Bunegin said. "Trainees are better prepared to respond to complications in a live patient. They aren't surprised, because they have already experienced and solved the situation in the mannequin."

SimMan™ is part of UTHSC's new human anesthesia simulation laboratory that was funded by the South Texas Veterans Health Care System, Audie Murphy Division (VA). Anesthesiology students and residents will begin training on the mannequins this spring. Bunegin will coordinate with faculty in the departments of emergency medical technology, physician assistant studies and respiratory therapy to create training programs for their students. Ultimately, he hopes the system will be available to the entire South Texas medical community.

Contact: Amanda Gallagher or Aileen Salinas