PALMETTO -- When the photo comparing a diseased heart valve to a healthy one flashed up onto the screen, a collective gasp rose from the couple hundred or so Lincoln Middle School eighth-grade students assembled in the cafeteria.
Dr. Naveen Acharya, a cardiologist with Manatee County Rural Health Services, was showing the students the photographs to demonstrate the consequences of some young people's bad choices concerning drugs.
"I was beginning to see a lot of young patients with heart conditions that I only thought happened to older people," Acharya told the students, who sat quietly and
listened to the doctor. "I found out a lot of those people, who are intelligent and accomplished, but made bad choices."
He explained with illustrations and photographs projected onto a screen behind him how bacteria that is common on the skin was injected directly into the bloodstream with dirty needles used for intravenous drugs.
"The heart is very strong, pumping liter after liter of blood throughout the body," Acharya said, "but it can't beat this kind of infection."
People with staph infection of the heart walls and valves, called endocarditis, suffer from swollen legs, shortness of breath and even strokes, among other symptoms.
This is the second year that Acharya and Darlene Dunbar, who is the echocardio lab supervisor at Manatee Memorial Hospital, have addressed the students about making wise life choices.
"You can say, 'I'm not going to do intravenous drugs'," Dunbar said to the students. "I'm just going to drink and smoke some reefer (marijuana). But when you're drunk or high you don't make good decisions," she said.
Dunbar said it makes an impact on the students when you speak in terms they understand.
And several students said they were impressed with Acharya's message.
"It gave me an awareness of what drugs can really do," said Brenda Garcia, 14. "The picture was very graphic."
For Sandra Delarosa, 14, the talk can change some people. "It made me see all the effects (drugs) have," Sandra said. "I know people who have tried drugs may now stop."
Tom Washington, 14, said watching the slide show only reinforced his decision to stay away from drugs. "I won't do drugs because I'm in sports," Tom said. "I play basketball."
Seeing a photograph of the inside of a heart was interesting to Megan Della Costa, 14, because she wants to be a pediatric cardiologist. "It made me become aware of things that can happen to people who do drugs," Megan said.
Lincoln Middle School science teacher Elston Brown said the students will continue discussing the issue in their classrooms as part of the Unit 9 curriculum, where students are provided information on making positive choices for their lives.