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Minimally Invasive Robotic Surgery for High School Football Player

Robotic Surgery Gets High School Football Player Back on the Field for Senior Year

As a senior at Burbank High School, Keith Kasitz has his future ahead of him. But what he’s looking forward to right now is getting back to playing the sport he loves: football.

As a right tackle and right guard, Kasitz is accustomed to getting hit, but during the 2021 season, he was tackled, heard a snap and felt intense pain.

“Something happened when my back went backward and my legs didn't move, and something broke at that point. And then I kept playing because I didn't want to stop,” Kasitz said.

Kasitz tried to play through the pain for the next four weeks, but his mother, Christine Kasitz, could tell her son was suffering. Normally helpful around the house, Keith was sticking close to the couch.

“He's really our lifter around here,” his mother said. “He's a big kid, so he'll help me move stuff. But after the injury, he was delaying, and he'd be like, ‘Oh, can it wait for a while? My back hurts today.’”

The pain also kept Keith from working on the family’s classic car collection, which he is in charge of keeping in running order. The pain made it impossible for him to bend over an engine or get underneath a car.

After a trip to the family physician, Keith was referred to pediatric orthopaedic surgeon David Skaggs, MD, director, Pediatric Orthopaedics at Cedars-Sinai Guerin Children’s. 

“What happened to Keith is serious,” said Skaggs. “His back went into hyperextension , and he fractured his spine in three places. He was afraid at that point he'd never be able to play football again. He tried physical therapy; he tried different things. But every time he went back, he was in so much excruciating pain, he couldn't play football. I think he came and saw me out of desperation, and it was clear that he was really motivated, but he also had a fractured spine that in about 10 months was not getting at all better.”

Skaggs recommended surgery and suggested the latest robotic technology available at Cedars- Sinai. Using robots, Skaggs explained, would avoid a large incision and ensure precision at fixing the problem without injuring the muscles surrounding the spinal cord.

Neurosurgeon Corey Walker, MD, specializes in robotic-assisted minimally invasive surgery and thought Keith was a good candidate.

“With robotic surgery, we're able to perform this procedure minimally invasively,” Walker said. “This allows the patient to get back on his or her feet in the course of weeks as opposed to months, typically.”

In Keith’s case, within weeks he was back working on his classic cars and training for football. Although he may not be strong enough to play the first games of the season, Skaggs expects he will be in the game for part of his senior year. For Keith, that’s his dream come true.

“It’s very important to me to be able to play at least a couple of games senior year,” said Keith. “That’s what I’ve been working toward these past few years, and I’m thrilled it’s going to happen.”