With bright yellow T-shirts and loads of energy, this FLL team lives up to their name

I first met the Folsom Cheetahs (FLL Team 928) at their Qualifying Tournament back in November. Both their enthusiasm as a team, and the work they had done on their project: treating a damaged or narrowed trachea, impressed me.

The Folsom Cheetahs pose with their project presentation board - at the Granite Bay Qualifier, November 21, 2010

To research their project, the team visited different departments at a local hospital  to understand various areas of medicine, surgery, and disease control.  Each member then wrote a page on a specific part of the body, which was then combined into a booklet for the entire team to study.  To chose a single research topic, they worked among themselves to create a short list, narrowing it down to 2 areas : heart and lungs. After discussing details with a pre-med student (who used to attend their school) the team chose lungs.

For the next step, the team contacted Dr. Nicholas Kenyon, Associate Program Director of the Pulmonary and Critical Care at UC Davis Medical Network, which in turn led them to Dr. Martin Birchall, a throat surgeon and Professor of Laryngology at the University College London – a pioneer in performing stem cell based surgery on trachea replacement. With Dr. Birchall as a mentor, the Cheetahs decided to focus on damaged trachea.

Getting ready to present their project presentation at the Sacramento FLL Regional Tournament.

The Cheetahs won Best Research Project at the Qualifier, and were selected to advance to the next level of competition.

In December, I got to see the team again at the Regional Competition and also learned more about their project. Their solution proposes to use a patient’s own stem cells to grow new tracheal graft and transplant it directly into the patient’s body. The team believes that using a patient’s own stem cells will greatly reduce the possibility of rejection, and that by transplanting the trachea immediately, both time and money will be saved.

The Cheetahs won the 2nd Place Teamwork award at the Regional, and were one of 16 teams advanced to the Nor Cal Championship – which is where I got the chance to see them again. This time, however, they looked a little different – with painted noses and whiskers!

The Cheetahs at the Nor Cal FLL Championship in Newark, January 29, 2011

At that point, they had also personally met their mentor – Dr. Birchall , had come up with  an economic solution to our health care plan using stem cells, AND had created a project BINGO game about their topic. Much to their amazement, most of the 48 participating FLL teams at the Championship played the game – and learned something new. Oh, and they also organized a bone marrow donation pledge at the event for the adult coaches and mentors!

The Cheetahs were awarded the Kids’ Choice Award “Most Fantastical Project” at the Championship – and yes – they can run fast too!

Their coach, Hari Shetty, told me that “… they have team members with 8 different language speakers including English, and their parents have come from 5 different countries. They are all very busy at extra curricular activities including soccer, basketball, piano, music, dance, karate, and others. They have listed 38 different activities (I wouldn’t have been able manage at that age), but still all straight “A” with honors, and Rapid Learner students. They are amazing. I’m blessed to coach this team.”

The Cheetahs run up to get their Kids' Choice Award at the Nor Cal FLL Championship

Run Cheetahs, Run!