I had the distinct pleasure of watching Nina Kar in action recently at St. Joseph Hospital of Orange.
The tennis-playing Mater Dei High School sophomore, born and raised in Huntington Beach, has so far worked hundreds of volunteer service hours as a candy striper at the hospital. She brought fresh flowers to a patient, an older woman who had just injured her arm, and was friendly, warm and engaging with the patient.
But that she displayed an exceptional bedside manner as a teenager is no surprise. That's because she has wanted to be a doctor since she was a little girl.
She comes from a family of doctors, as she explained to me in the break room, and is now firmly focused on following in her father's footsteps. As a child, she tagged along on rounds and watched her father's surgery videos, asking questions and never being thrown by the sight of blood.
Nina's father, Dr. Ashok Kar, is certainly someone for any young medical student to emulate. He performed the first successful robotic radical prostatectomy for prostate cancer using St. Joseph Hospital's new da Vinci robot in July 2003. As an expert in the field and St. Joseph Hospital's robotics medical director, Dr. Kar frequently lectures on the topic of robotic technique for prostatectomy at international medical conferences as well as local clinical meetings. (Recently, he lectured with a group of Mater Dei anatomy and physiology students, including Nina.)
Nina told me she especially loves volunteering at the hospital, because she and her father get to spend special time together. That feeling has long been the case, ever since she became fascinated with medicine as a young child.
Her favorite duties as a hospital volunteer are discharges — that is, the process of preparing someone to leave the hospital to go home ("It's usually like they are being set free," she said) — and helping out moms with newborns.
She did not appear jet-lagged when we spoke, which I found impressive, given that she had just returned a couple of days earlier from Uganda. The wife of one of her dad's patients had created a charitable organization to help the needy in that country, and when Nina heard her dad and mom, Avi, were headed over to help, she begged to go along so that she could add to the relief efforts. And with that, it was decided that she could indeed join her mom and dad on a most important mission of mercy.
However, before leaving, Nina decided to raise some money to help buy computers to help set up a technology center in the primitive village. After he got out of surgery the day I visited the hospital, her father told me that Nina's original goal was to raise $4,000. But she ended raising more than three times that.
"We are so proud of her," he said. "And she was incredible over there, too. I would see over 100 patients a day in Uganda. In a country with 37 million people, there are just five urologists, so I was quite busy. But Nina and her mom spent wonderful time with many young people there helping set everything up. She really was something."
"Those were some of the nicest people I have ever met," Nina told me, recounting her trip. "But it broke my heart. No electricity, people living in little huts — but just such beautiful people. I cannot wait to go back."
And I'm sure she will at some point. She's just that focused, determined and thoroughly passionate for what she wants to do.
Dr. Kar told me that growing up in India, he used to dream of being a doctor. And he likes the fact that today, here in Huntington Beach, where the family has lived since 1992, his daughter shares that same dream.
(You can see the blog Nina kept while in Uganda: fromugandawithlove.blogspot.com/
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at http://www.facebook.com/hbindependent.