Erie High Students See Robotic Surgery Demo

December 13, 2018 GMT

A doctor and nurse from Avista Adventist Hospital recently signed up to bring a travelling surgical robot to Erie High School, giving students a look at the latest surgical technology.

The da Vinci Xi surgical robot, one of four in the country used for demonstrations, is the same model that’s used for surgeries at Avista.

At Erie High, groups of students in engineering and anatomy and physiology classes learned more about the machine and how it’s used.

“I wanted them to have an idea of how we use what they’re learning in the real world,” said anatomy and physiology teacher Genadine Toves. “These are the things that kids remember.”

Dr. Ross Leibovitz, a general surgeon, and Amy Randle, nurse clinical coordinator for robotic surgery, started by talking about laparoscopic surgery technology.

Laparoscopic surgery allows doctors to perform surgery through small punctures instead of large incisions.

They let a few students try picking up a rubber ring in a “patient’s” stomach using the long laparoscopic “stick” with a camera and tweezers on the end, guiding the tweezers while looking at a monitor.

“It’s very difficult to duplicate the dexterity of a human hand with an instrument that only opens and closes,” Leibovitz said.

Then they talked about the newer robotic technology, which translates the surgeon’s hand movements into smaller, precise movements to manipulate tiny instruments inside the patient’s body.

“The robot doesn’t do the surgery,” Leibovitz said. “It only translates the motions from my fingers to the instrument.”

A video monitor in the operating room guides doctors during surgery, allowing them to operate using highly magnified and immersive 3D-HD visualization. They can also zoom in and out.

“It gives you better vision and better lighting,” Leibovitz said. “I can move the camera wherever I want. It’s all very precise. I’m in complete control.”

For the patients, there’s less pain, faster healing and shorter hospital stays.

Leibovitz said patients who undergo surgery for colon cancer, for example, typically spend a week in the hospital after a regular surgery, but just two to three days after a robotic surgery.

“It gives people the best result and least recovery time,” he said. “You have less trauma and very little blood loss.”

After learning how it worked, students had an opportunity to try it themselves, using the robot to unwrap a Starburst candy.

“I thought it would be super mechanical, but you have so much dexterity,” said sophomore Lauren Davia. “This is so cool.”

Junior Addyson Huber said she was impressed with the robot’s accuracy.

“It totally just moves with you,” she said, adding that she liked the idea of performing surgeries with minimal blood. “I could see myself doing this.”

The students also asked what kinds of surgeries work best with the help of robotics. Because it takes time to set up and doesn’t work well when there’s a lot of blood, it’s not typically used for trauma surgeries.

Instead, Leibovitz said, it’s most used in urological, gynecological, general and heart surgeries.

Students also asked if robotic surgeries take longer.

“It does the first time,” Leibovitz said. “Your time becomes faster. I’ve done 180 robotic cases. My times are tremendously faster than when I first started.”

Randle added that there aren’t inherently more complications from a robotic surgery because the robotic arm “only does what we tell it to.”

“Surgery is an inexact science,” she said. “We have a plan, but it doesn’t always go according to plan.”

Amy Bounds: 303-473-1341, boundsa@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/boundsa