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Introduction to Personal Stories (case studies)

Author(s): Nancy P. Moreno, PhD, Ronald L. McNeel, DrPH, Barbara Z. Tharp, MS, Gregory L. Vogt, EdD, and James P. Denk, MA
Introduction to Personal Stories (case studies)
  • Grades:
  • Length: Variable


Students are introduced to Arturo, Brian and Angela. Each character experiences a health crisis that could be related to cardiovascular disease.

This activity is from the Scientific Decision-Making Teacher's Guide, part of a teaching unit which includes the publication, Scientific Decision-making: Supplementary Activities on the Cardiovascular System.

Teacher Background

Regardless of age, everyone can make better choices to improve quality of life. In the activity, “Decisions and Risk,” students learned that the most frequent cause of death in the United States is heart disease, heart failure or heart attack. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, certain health conditions, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, combined with unhealthy eating habits, obesity, lack of exercise and/or alcohol and tobacco use, can place people at higher risk for developing heart disease. Heart disease also can run in families, and genetic disorders, including one that causes high levels of “bad” cholesterol (low density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol), contribute to elevated risks of heart disease and heart attack. So it can be very helpful to know family history and to seek treatment for conditions that are risk factors for heart disease or other serious illness.

In this activity, students will meet three characters who are experiencing health emergencies. One character, Arturo, has made a number of decisions that place him at risk for disease. Being overweight, not exercising and choosing a diet high in fat and refined carbohydrates all increase a person’s likelihood of having high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes or clogged arteries. In turn, these conditions can precipitate a health crisis, such as a heart attack or a stroke. The second character, Brian, has chosen to smoke cigarettes. Smoking harms almost every organ in the body, and it is connected to about 1 of every 5 deaths in the US each year. It is the main preventable cause of death and illness. The third character, Angela, seems to be doing all the right things. She has just begun an exercise program and maintains an appropriate body weight. But something has happened to her, and it looks serious.

Objectives and Standards

Materials and Setup

Teacher Materials (see Setup)

  • For each group of students, you will assemble a three-ring binder containing four tabs, or create a set of four folders. Each tab or folder will hold installments of the personal stories of one of the fictitious characters, Arturo, Brian or Angela. The fourth tab or folder will hold reference materials added throughout the unit. This system will enable students to refer back to earlier installments or reference materials, as needed.

  • Interactive white board or video projector, and Internet access

  • For each group of students, four copies of Part One of personal stories for Arturo, Brian and Angela

  • Four copies of the “Table of Diagnostic Tests,” pages for each group of students. (The table will be used again with the activity, “Team Diagnosis of Three Cases.”)

Materials per Team of Students

  • Binder with one prelabeled personal story tab (or set of three folders) for each character (Arturo, Brian and Angela), and a fourth tab or folder for reference materials (see description under Teacher Materials)

  • Each binder or set of folders should include four copies of Part One of the personal story for each character and four copies of the table. This will enable every student to have his/her own copy to read or follow along. Copies should be returned to the binder or folders at the end of class.


  1. For each group of students, put together a three-ring binder containing four tabs, or a set of four folders. Each tabbed binder section (or folder) will hold the personal story of one fictitious character—Arturo, Brian or Angela. The fourth tab or folder will hold reference materials added as you move through the unit.

  2. Make copies of the Part One personal story pages for the three characters (Arturo, Brain and Angela). Place the pages in the appropriate binder section (or folder) for each group. These sheets will remain in the binder or folders, so students can refer to them as they obtain more information about the cases.

  3. Make four copies of the “Table of Diagnostic Tests” pages for each group of students.

  4. To access the video entitled, Scientific Decision-making, Part One, go to the “Lessons and More” tab on the BioEd Online website. Click on Resource Collections, then Scientific Decision-making. Or go directly to If your school limits access to YouTube or Vimeo, download the video from BioEd Online prior to class.

  5. Have students work in teams of four to decide on a course of action for each character.

Procedure and Extensions

Time: One or two 45-minute class periods.

  1. Tell students that they will be following the personal stories of three fictitious characters, Arturo, Brian and Angela. In this first session, they will learn some background about the characters and follow them through a health crisis. Students should be prepared to take notes about each person from the information presented in videos or handouts.

  2. Ask students, Do you know any of the warning signs of a heart attack? List their ideas on the board. Possible answers include: chest pressure or pain; arm, neck or jaw pain; cold sweat; nausea; feeling of indigestion and vomiting. Mention that heart attacks may not cause any pain or other symptoms.

  3. Distribute the binders or folders to each student group. Have one or more students read or act out each personal story. Alternately, show the video, Part One, Scientific Decision-making, and distribute the Part One stories for students to refer to during the follow-up discussion. The video may be found at

  4. After watching the video or reading Part One of the personal stories, lead a class discussion of each character’s health crisis. Ask, What happened to Arturo/Brian/Angela? How serious is his/her condition? Do you think any of his/her health problems result from decisions he/she has made?

  5. Ask, Which vital signs for each person are within the normal range? Call students’ attention to the Table of Diagnostic Tests, explaining that it provides information about common vital signs and laboratory tests used with patients. Have students review the table and locate the vital signs mentioned in each personal story.

  6. Have all student groups write short summaries of each patient’s current condition, being sure to include any vital signs that are not within the normal range.

Extensions or Homework

Family history plays an important role in determining a person’s risk for certain health conditions, including high blood pressure and early age heart attacks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a tendency for heart disease can cluster in families, so family medical history can provide important information for identifying risk in individuals. Family histories also can highlight shared inherited or environmental factors (such as eating habits) that can lead to incidence of a given disease among multiple family members. Have students use the My Family Health Portrait from the US Surgeon General website (, to create their own family health histories.

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Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

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