Hillcrest Medical Center robot can perform war-zone surgery
BY MICHAEL OVERALL World Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 08, 2012
5/08/12 at 8:12 AM
The U.S. military originally developed the technology to let doctors stay safely away from war zones but still be able to perform emergency surgeries on wounded soldiers.
So, theoretically, Dr. Gene Dickens' patient Monday could have been in Iraq or Afghanistan. Or, for that matter, the International Space Station.
Moving only his thumbs and middle fingers to control a $1 million robot, Dickens sat comfortably at a console and watched the gallbladder operation through a 3-D screen.
"I look forward to the day when I can roll out of bed and do the surgery from my living room," he said.
"And then switch over to the Sony Playstation as soon as I'm done."
But he was only joking. Or, at least, half-joking.
Ready to intervene the old-fashioned way, surgeons sit a few feet away from the operating table while using Hillcrest Medical Center's new da Vinci Surgical Robot, produced by a company called Intuitive.
"Whoever named the company got it right," Dickens said.
"When I'm at the controls, I feel like I've been shrunk down in size and put inside the patient. The robot arms become my arms."
To prove how easy it is to use, Hillcrest invited a class of seventh-graders from San Miguel School to visit a demo version of the robot Monday morning.
With no practice and no training, the students from the Catholic middle school used the four-armed robot to pick up pennies and manipulate tiny rings.
"It moves like you move," 13-year-old Henry Castillo said. "That's all there is to it."
Surgeons typically train on a simulator for 20 hours and practice on a pig or a dog before trying a human operation.
Doctors have even been known to do origami with the robot, just to perfect their skills.
"There's a very gentle learning curve," said Dr. Darla Lofgren, an obstetrician and gynecologist.
"The surgical techniques are the same, only the robot allows more precision."
The technology has been used for several years for specialized surgeries but was only recently approved for general surgery.
Using a single, tiny incision, the robot minimizes the stress put on a patient's body.
"The important thing for the patient," Lofgren said, "is that there's less pain and less recovery time."
It also puts less stress on the surgeons, who often suffer back problems and muscle aches after spending hours standing in front of the operating table.
"This technology could add years to a surgeon's career," said Dickens, the first doctor in Tulsa to use the robot for removing gallbladders.
Eventually, it might even fulfill its original goal - taking advanced surgery to remote parts of the world without the surgeon ever leaving home.
"It's going to be interesting to see where the technology goes from here," Dickens said. "This is only the beginning."
The San Miguel students had a contest to name the robot, with suggestions including "The Operator" and "OrganSurge."
Hospital officials chose seventh-grader Alberto Gutierrez's entry, "Bot-Berto."
Original Print Headline: Surgery by robot
Michael Overall 918-581-8383
San Miguel School seventh-graders Erika Padilla (left), Cristina Ramirez and Pedro Santiago watch a new surgical robot Monday at Hillcrest Medical Center. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
José Maldonado (left), a seventh-grader from San Miguel School, talks with classmate Pedro Santiago, who is learning how to use a new surgical robot Monday at Hillcrest Medical Center. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Seventh-graders Omar Medina (left), Alberto Gutierrez, Pedro Santiago and Almir Rojas celebrate Monday at Hillcrest Medical Center, where Alberto won a contest to name a new surgical robot. His winning entry was "Bot-Berto." MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World