Sixth-Grade Researchers Learn From the Best – Renowned Providence Heart Surgeon Albert Starr

February 09, 2011
PORTLAND, Ore. — Where does an inquiring 12-year-old go for good information on heart valves to include in a class report? Straight to the source – which is exactly what two Bethany sixth-graders did recently. Of course, it helps when the co-inventor of the first successful artificial heart valve works just up the road.

Snigdha Kanadibhotla and Priyanka Mathur attend Summa Stoller, a program for gifted students that is affiliated with Stoller Middle School in Bethany. As the girls were researching their class paper, one of their parents suggested calling Albert Starr, M.D. at Providence Heart and Vascular Institute. They remembered seeing recent news coverage celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Starr-Edwards artificial heart valve. They contacted his office, and were delighted when Dr. Starr invited them for a visit.

The girls spent more than an hour interviewing the cardiac surgeon on the history of the invention, how artificial valves work, and what the future holds for repairing the heart. They even asked his opinion on an artificial valve they had designed themselves. Dr. Starr was impressed with the level of knowledge the students had on their subject. “They had a very advanced view of how the heart works and were quite sophisticated for such a young age,” he said. “I enjoy the chance to talk with kids and see how their minds work. If we get them focused on a project they can go pretty far.”

The two young students hope to pursue careers in medicine. Mathur is considering cardiology and Kanadibhotla wants to be a neurosurgeon. After finishing their report, they planned to share what they learned at the school's science fair.

“It was a great experience to talk to Dr. Starr, given his contributions to cardiology,” says Mathur. “He has an excellent teaching style and explained very complicated things at a level that we could understand. He's a great inspiration to us.”