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African American youth invents surgical technique at age 14

Young, Gifted and Black Series

By Taki S. Raton

He is young, he is gifted and he is Black. At the age of 14, Tony Hansberry II certainly holds grounded status in the league of exceptional youth.

“Tony Hansberry II isn’t waiting to finish medical school to contribute to improved medical care. He has already developed a stitching technique that can be used to reduce surgical complications, as well as the chance of error among less experienced surgeons,” writes Jackie Jones in BlackAmericaWeb.com on June 16, 2009.

“The project I did was basically the comparison of novel laparoscopic instruments in doing a hysterectomy repair,” reveals Hansberry.

At the time, Hansberry was a high school freshman at the Darnell-Cookman Middle/High School of the Medical Arts in Jacksonville, Florida, a special medical magnet school that allows its students to take advanced classes in medicine. Informational documents cite that students at the school are able to master suturing in eighth grade. Suturing is the surgical stitching of a wound.

The son of a registered nurse and an African Methodist Episcopal church pastor, the Darnell-Cookman student said that “I just want to help people and be respected, knowing that I can save lives.” His goal is to become a neurosurgeon.

Jones reports that the idea for his unique procedure was conceived during the summer of 2008 while enrolled as an intern at the University of Florida ’s Center for Simulation Education and Safety Research at Shands Hospital in Jacksonville.

It was noted that Hansberry responded to a challenge to improve a procedure called the “endo stitch” used in hysterectomies that could not be clamped down properly to close the tube where the patient’s uterus had been. Using a medical dummy, the 14-year-old devised a vertical way to apply the endo stitch, completing the stitching in a third of the time of traditional surgery.

“It took me a day or two to come up with the concept,” Hansberry said in the Jones interview.

He was supervised by urogynecologist Dr. Brent Siebel and Bruce Nappi, administrative director of the Center for Simulation Education and Safety Research. Hansberry’s accomplishment, it is reported, won second place in the medical category regional science fair in February 2009.

“Education experts say that youngsters as young as 10 can experience great achievement at an early age if their thirst for knowledge is encouraged and they are given opportunities to shadow professionals and get internships,” as quoted by Jones.

In April of 2009, Hansberry presented his findings at a medical conference at the University of Florida before an audience of doctors and board-certified surgeons. Medical lead teacher Angela Tenbroeck is quoted noting that in many ways, Hansberry is a typical student, but that he is way ahead of his classmates when it comes to surgical skills.

“I would put him up against a first-year med student. He’s an outstanding young man and I am proud to have him representing us,” she says. As an 11th- grader at the age of 16, the January 25, 2011 Jacksonville.com blog reports that Hansberry was one of nine youth who were selected to travel to Washington that February to present the Boy Scouts of America Report to the Nation to President Barack Obama.

District director for the Boy Scouts of America Lawrence Norman in the Jacksonville report said that when district leaders were asked to recommend an exemplary Scout, “Tony’s name kept coming up.”

Hansberry was also introduced at the annual meeting of the North Florida Council of The Boy Scouts at the University of North Florida on January 25, 2011.

According to Jacksonville writer Justin Sacharoff, the Boy Scouts of America Report to the Nation features the year’s achievements including national service, conservation, healthy living and community involvement.

The Darnell-Cookman Middle/ High School of the Medical Arts is a school within the Duval County Public Schools system in Jacksonville. It is a National Blue Ribbon School and also an “A” school in the State of Florida school grading system.

The school had its beginnings nearly 200 years ago when Methodist minister Reverend S.B. Darnell moved to Jacksonville to serve as pastor of Ebenezer Methodist- Episcopal Church. In the late 1800s, he founded the Cookman Institute. It was the first school of higher education for African Americans in the state of Florida specializing in the religious and academic preparation of teachers.

Under the leadership of Darnell, the school served thousands of young Black men and women until it was destroyed in the Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901. The Reverend Alfred Cookman, a close friend of Reverend Darnell, helped raise the money to rebuild the school. Today, Darnell-Cookman School of the Medical Arts has an enrollment upwards of 1,100 students in grades 6-12. The first graduating class will receive their diplomas in the spring of 2012.

This “Young, Gifted and Black” series is proud to present its first writing during this 2012 February Black History Month by sharing the exemplary modeled accomplishment of Tony Hansberry II. But in reality, Hansberry’s achievement historically in our communities is really not unusual or extraordinary for our African American students when they are taught, groomed and culturally inspired in an academically supportive instructional environment unique to how we learn, grow, and develop mentally, socially, emotionally, and even psychologically as Black youth in today’s challenging diverse society.

And added to this point in his words, our young neurosurgeon to be says that, “It’s not really hard if you have a passion for it.”