DaVinci dazzles the Valley

Surgical robot star attraction at HealthEast Stillwater open house

By ERIK SANDIN – Stillwater Gazette

DaVinci was the star Thursday at the HealthEast Stillwater Clinic. Guests lined up to see and touch him, even try him out.

After all, when can the average person try one of two surgical robots HealthEast uses at St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood.

HealthEast officials brought a portable DaVinci robot to their Curve Crest Boulevard Clinic Thursday evening and let open house visitors use the device to pick up pennies, rubber bands and other small items.

The purpose was to show visitors how surgeons use the DaVinci surgical robot for a variety of procedures. Two physicians at the open house said DaVinci offers more precise and less invasive surgeries and shorter recovery times for patients.

"You can take care of the goal more precisely and there’s less tissue damage," said Dr. Joanne Votel, an OB-GYN. "Patients recover quickly. They leave in 24 hours and they are on oral pain medications in 24 hours.

"By far, the obvious advantage is recovery time," adds urologist Dr. Chris Knoedler.

The DaVinci surgical robot is a three-part machine. One part are robot arms with grips on the ends. The second part is a separate console where physicians sit and look through a lens at 10 times magnification and 3D. Phyisician manipulate the robot arms using their thumbs and forefingers inside nylon loops.

"You can see better (with DaVinci) than with the naked eye," said HealthEast spokeswoman Jodi Ritacca

The third part is another monitor attached to the robot so other medical personnel in the operating room can watch the surgery.

A.J. Dorff with Intuitive Surgical, maker of DaVinci, said the surgical robot was first developed by the military. The machine allows military surgeons to remotely operate on injured service personnel near the scene of battle, Dorrf said.

On the civilian side, Dorff said DaVinci is used for urology, gynecology, colo-rectal and chest surgeries.

"Everything from the nose down to the pelvis," he said.

Ritacca said HealthEast bought its first surgical robot about eight years ago and added the second robot about one year ago.

"We’re using it for certain applications that no other hospital is using it for," she said, adding that St. John’s has just started using the robot for colo-rectal procedures.

Votel, who has used the DaVinci robot for two years, is one of three members of her seven-member physicians group who use the device. Surgical procedures the machine has been used for include hysterectomies, myomectomies, ovarian cystectomies and prolapse corrections.

"The technology is more precise," she said.

Knoedler, who was one of the first HealthEast physicians to use DaVinci, said the technology has changed how surgeons remove cancerous prostate glands.

"The vision is spectacular," he said. "It’s magnified 10 times and it’s three-dimensional. Having three-dimensional is phenomenal."

Dorff said the DaVinci robot is now used for 85 percent of the prostatectomies done in the U.S. Knoedler adds that two advantages the robot brings to prostate surgery are small incisions and the ability to work in a small space.

"It can reach right down there and lift the prostate," he said. "You can get in the small space where the prostate is and reconstruct the pelvis. It’s really replaced open surgery for prostate removal."

Knoedler notes that recovery time for men undergoing a prostatectomy with the DaVinci robot is about one day compared to about 3 days with open surgery. He adds that patients who had their prostate removed by the robot can drive their car in about a week and are back at work a couple weeks later.

St. John’s has 20 surgeons trained and credentialed in robotic surgery and Knoedler said the procedure is growing.

"All the training centers have this," he said.

So, how easy was the DaVinci surgical robot to use for a non-medically trained person? Mike Thell of St. Paul, whose wife underwent a procedure with the robot a year, found the device easy to use.

"The problem I had was with depth perception," he said. "Trying to grab the penny down there, it took me a couple of times to reach down far enough to grab it. It’s kind of neat."