Robot surgery helps patients recover more quickly

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Robot surgery

The Da Vinci S Surgical team (from left) Miriam Whitaker, C.S. Technician, Carol Dupalevich, RN, and Amy McCracken, RN, set up the Da Vinci S Surgical Robot arms which are controlled by a surgeon from a remote console with 3D HD Vision. The robotic platform is designed to enable complex surgery using a minimally invasive approach.

Inside one of New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s surgical rooms, wirelessly controlled, robotic arms hovered over patients like something out of a science fiction movie.

Doctors moved the arms while sitting several feet away from the operating table, pinching and swiveling surgical joysticks.

“I believe this is the future of surgery,” said Christian deBeck, a urologist at New Hanover Regional. He was the first surgeon to start using robotic surgery at the hospital, where 15 procedures have been conducted since September.

With the purchase of a da Vinci S surgical system, now dubbed Leo, New Hanover Regional joined a growing number of hospitals nationwide adopting the technology. More than 20 hospitals in North Carolina are using da Vinci systems, though New Hanover Regional is the only one in this area, according to Intuitive Surgical, the only company making the machines commercially.

The benefit, said doctors showing off the unit Wednesday, is that Leo allows for minimally invasive surgeries. Smaller cuts means less pulling and tissue damage than open surgery, and patients lose less blood and recover more quickly.

Some of those claims were backed in a study last month from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, which monitored patients who underwent robotic surgery for two gynecological cancer procedures.

While an open-surgery hysterectomy could require a 6-inch cut, the robotic surgery only makes five, small incision points, said Walter Gajewski, a gynecologic oncologist at New Hanover Regional.

He said working on the machines feels natural because the miniscule clamps attached to the machine’s three arms swivel around, mimicking how the surgeon would be moving if their hands were above the patient and not working remote controls.

“It’s a greater range of motion than the human hand,” said Amy McCracken, a robotics charge nurse.

Peering at a video screen, surgeons zoom in and out from a fourth arm floating over the operating table. The 3-D video appears in high definition, and surgeons can magnify the image up to 10 times.

The result is increased precision, particularly with dissecting lymph nodes in cancer operations.

Because of the system’s expense, both with upfront investment and ongoing supplies costs, the robotic unit is not a money maker for the hospital, deBeck said. He did not say how much the da Vinci cost to buy but put the price tag at more than $1 million.

“It’s patient driven,” he said about the service. “It is a big commitment from the hospital.”

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