Lang Scholars try out new robot

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
January 13, 2008 9:00:00 PM PST
Robotic systems in surgery are almost commonplace these days. Now, one local hospital is rolling out its brand new model.And the first group to get their hands on this high-tech tool is an unusual group of teens.

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg.

They were eager as they put on their scrubs this morning, ready to take part in a mock surgery at Columbia's New York Presbyterian.

Although they're only in their early teens, most of the students are already familiar with operating rooms and surgery.

"I've seen eight surgeries," 15-year-old Sheneca Vierira said. "The first one I've ever seen was a baby, he was about 5 months, and he had spina bifida, so we got to see how they corrected him."

The students, one as young as 12, are enrolled in the Lang Medical Program at the hospital. For six years, they do extra work that will hopefully prepare them for college and medical school. All of them are from the Washington Heights/Inwood area or go to schools there.

"I was looking for that something that would give me a push toward a brighter future, and I knew this program was going to help me get that," 14-year-old Jatnna Toribio said.

The project Monday was to try out the newest surgical robot and to practice the manual dexterity required to operate it.

The patients to practice on? Some candies needing unwrapped.

Sitting at the controls, the students follow the direction of Dr. Ketan Badani, the director of robotic surgery, who was working to infect them with his enthusiasm for the technology.

"This is the best way for a kid to get excited about continuing the hard work required to go down this road," Dr. Badani said. "And hopefully they'll take away from this that enthusiasm and say I really want to do this."

Twelve-year-old George Kobakhidze has few doubts.

"It was amazing, and I was really honored that I can meet such people," he said. "And it was fun to try such a robot that normal people couldn't even touch."

Students must compete on academic performance and personal recommendations to get into the program. The teens held a contest to name the robot. The name chosen was submitted by 13-year-old Jeffrey Sena from PS 52. It will be called LS, for Lang Scholar, which is a label these students wear with pride.