Calling Dr. Bot
“Who wants to repair a hernia?”
On Friday, Alex Reid’s words get the attention of a room full of Abraham Lincoln Elementary students at Providence Medford Medical Center. Until now, the students have been using a $2 million surgical robot to navigate rings over a piece of angled metal.
Reid replaces the rings with a tray that holds fake tissue, complete with a slice through the material meant to simulate a hernia. There is also a needle, thread and two robotic arms.
“I want you to take that needle and try to run it through this side,” Reid, a sales representative for Intuitive Surgical, tells fourth-grader Bonnie Stouder, who stands at the control console across the room as he points at a television screen showing a closeup of the fake injury and surgical instruments.
Bonnie grasps the controls and, peering through a viewfinder, begins to weave. The robotic arms respond, grasp the needle and thread, hook it through the fake tissue, and apply the first stitch. Then another.
“I’ve never really done anything like that before, but I think I was able to handle it pretty well,” Bonnie says after she finishes, letting another student take a turn.
It’s the second time in a year Abraham Lincoln students have gotten a glimpse into the capabilities of the da Vinci Surgical System, primarily used for urological and gynecological procedures at Providence, along with some general surgery.
“We really enjoyed having the kids here,” says Matthew Frank, who works in Providence’s Clinical Engineering Department, tasked with the robot’s maintenance and repair.
“The parents, the teachers, the staff all really wanted to make this happen again, so we did it. It was a great experience last year, and we’ll probably do it again next year if we can.”
It’s a great way to show cutting-edge technology at work, Abraham Lincoln teacher DJ Muller says.
“They’re going to grow up in a world where it might be 50 percent robots doing jobs,” he says of his students. “Who knows where it’s going to go?”
It’s the sole da Vinci system at Providence, though the hospital may get another, Frank says.
“A lot more doctors are using this for a host of different procedures,” he says. “We’re going to take this robot, after we’re done with this demonstration, and move it back to the OR, and it will be in a procedure. Scheduling is a difficult thing.”
The robot is popular among surgeons for a number of reasons, including the fact it shortens recovery times for patients because incisions are smaller and more precise.
“The articulation of the arms of the robot, what it’s able to do in small spaces, they’re able to have less trauma to the surgical site,” Frank says.
Other benefits include less post-surgery pain for patients and enhanced visualization for surgeons.
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