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		(212) 854-5573					May 19, 1997

Engineer, With Nod to Columbia Surgeon, To Harness Science Skills to Medical Career

John Riordan wasn't yet five months old when doctors noticed that he couldn't hold his head up properly. X-rays found that the bones of his skull were fusing together too soon. The condition, called premature closure of the saggital sutures, could lock the skull in place and prevent the brain from growing. Doctors thought the damage had already been done, and that John would grow up to be severely retarded. They thought any surgery would be cosmetic: It would give him an attractive head and nothing more. Lester Mount, a world-renowned neurosurgeon at Columbia's College of Physicians & Surgeons, had devised an operation to open the sutures, which he performed in January 1975 while John was still an infant. "Several bones in his skull were fusing together," said Dr. Mount, now 87, from his home in Bronxville, N.Y. "We separated the bones and put some material on top to prevent them from growing together." The prospect of having a retarded son changed the lives of John's parents, both teachers who still reside in Eatontown, N.J. His mother went back to school for a master's degree in special education and began working with handicapped children. His father bought a ride at a local carnival, thinking John could work as a ride operator or ticket collector when he grew up. As it turns out, the operation did allow John's skull to grow normally. He is graduating May 21 from Columbia's School of Engineering and Applied Science. He's smart, too, as evidenced by his induction into Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honors society, which admits the top eighth of engineering juniors at colleges where it has a chapter. "The surgery was a success and my parents have long since gotten out of the carnival business," John said. He has remained grateful to Dr. Mount, who he has not seen since the age of 10, and to the medical profession. Indeed, he has decided to apply to medical schools - Columbia is his first choice - and become a physician himself. "I had a lifesaving operation that Dr. Mount designed," he said. "Otherwise, I would have been severely retarded. So my choice is motivated in part out of a sense of gratitude for the help I was given." It's a life that Dr. Mount would be proud to have saved. John has worked with poor children in Mexico and designed research apparatus for experiments at Brookhaven National Laboratories. With John at third base, Monmouth Regional High's baseball team won the county championship three years in a row, and at 6'3" and 225 pounds, he was a first-string tackle for the varsity football team. He majored in materials science at Columbia, but it wasn't until he took courses in bioethics that he realized his math and science background qualified him for medical school, where he could obtain skills that would help people. "It's an exciting field, and the changes over the next 50 years are going to be immense," John said. Engineering will help him understand new procedures and devices, and he designed an artificial hip for a materials science class. He plans a clinical practice, possibly in sports medicine or pediatrics. He also helped design the glass capillary tubes that Slade Cargill, professor of materials science at Columbia, used to focus X-ray beams at Brookhaven National Laboratories on Long Island in experiments that took place in 1995. The X-rays, concentrated to a fine beam by the capillaries, were used to measure the stresses in the tiny wires that provide current to computer chips. "He was the top student in several of my classes his junior year, and he was a top performer on our softball team last summer," Professor Cargill said. "John will be a super doctor, teacher or engineer, or whatever else he decides to do." John put his empathy - and his high-school Spanish - to the test in the summer of 1994, when he taught poor children in southern Mexico. "I think I got more out of it than they did," he said. "I learned about myself and the advantages I have in my life." 5.19.97 19,186