Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

African American 9th-Grader Develops New Surgical Technique

May 2nd, 2009 by Ajuan Mance
Toni Hansberry II using demonstrating his surgical technique on a simulation dummy at the University of Florida simulation center. He is assisted by Dr. Bruce Nappi.
The blogosphere is buzzing about Tony Hansberry II, the 14 year-old ninth grader who discovered a faster and potentially safer surgical technique for closing hysterectomy incisions. reporter Jeremy Cox describes Hansberry’s findings:

Tony is a student down the street from Shands at Darnell-Cookman Middle/High School, a magnet school geared toward all things medical. (Students, for example, master suturing by the eighth grade.)

At the simulation center, where medical residents and nurses practice on dummies, the normally shy student warmed up to the center’s administrative director, Bruce Nappi. In turn, Nappi, a problem-solver with a Massachusetts Institute of Technology aeronautics degree, found someone willing to learn.

One day, an obstetrics and gynecology professor asked the pair to help him figure out why no one was using a handy device that looks like a dipstick with clamps at the end, called an endo stitch, for sewing up hysterectomy patients. In other procedures, it proved its worth for its ability to grip pieces of thread and maneuverability.

What Tony did next is so complicated that the professor who suggested the project has to resort to a metaphor to explain it: “Instead of buttoning your shirt side to side, what about doing it up and down?” Brent Seibel said.

Here’s the literal explanation: The problem was that the endo stitch couldn’t clamp down properly to close the tube where the patient’s uterus had been. Tony figured that by suturing the tube vertically instead of horizontally, it could be done. And he was right.

Nappi said he came up with the idea but didn’t tell Tony, letting him come to the conclusion himself.

“It was truly independent that he figured it out,” Nappi said, adding that a representative for the device’s manufacturer told him that the endo stitch had never been used for that purpose.

Tony’s unpracticed hands were able to stitch three times faster with the endo stitch vs. the conventional needle driver. Further study may prove whether the same is true for more experienced surgeons, Seibel said.

In addition to cutting surgical time, the technique may help surgeons who don’t do many hysterectomies because it’s easier to use the endo stitch, he added.

Last week, Hansberry presented his discovery before a roomful of physicians, as part of the University of Florida’s Medical Education Week program. His presentation apparently included a demonstration of his new technique. He developed this procedure under the supervision of Dr. Bruce Nappi, the administrative director at the University of Florida’s simulation center. The simulation center is located in Jacksonville.

Hansberry, who’s mom is a registered nurse and whose dad is the pastor of an A.M.E. church, plans to become a neurosurgeon. When asked why,  he explained, “I just want to help people and be respected, knowing that I can save lives.”

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in African Americans, Black Students, Current Events, race, Tony Hansberry II, Uncategorized, University of Florida

2 Responses

  1. SjP

    hmmmm….not isn’t that interesting “Nappi said he came up with the idea but didn’t tell Tony, letting him come to the conclusion himself.” Kind of reminds me of Eli Whitney inventing the cotton gin…

    Congrats to Tony!!!

  2. Ajuan Mance

    I like the comparison with Eli Whitney. I’ll be curious to see if a publication comes out of this discovery and, if it does, who the first and second authors will be and in what sequence.

    Either way, nothing can take away from this young man’s incredible achievement. Can’t wait to see what he does over the next 10 years!