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OCH unveils surgical machine at open house

May 25, 2012

By STEVEN NALLEY
sdnedu@bellsouth.net

Five-year-old Barrett Gregg really likes the name “Jack,” and so does the staff at OCH Regional Medical Center.

Barrett’s mother, Lynn Gregg, said all four of her children entered a contest to name OCH’s latest surgical machine, the da Vinci Si from Intuitive Surgical.

“One came up with ‘Mr. Roboto,’” Lynn said. “One came up with ‘Oscar the Great,’ one came up with ‘Rosie’ and Barrett came up with ‘Jack.’ That’s his favorite name.”

The staff at OCH held an open house Thursday afternoon to introduce the public to Jack and demonstrate its advanced capabilities to the public.

Mel Thurlow, marketing and public relations director at OCH, said the panel of judges liked the name because they saw the da Vinci Si as a Jack of all trades. She said she was delighted with the community children’s response; hundreds of colored-in pictures of the machine with proposed names were posted at the open house for all to see.

“We wanted to convey that it is state of the art technology, but there is a definite human side,” Thurlow said. “It’s the most impressive piece of medical equipment that I’ve seen in a long time. I think we’re just really on the front end of where we’re going to go with this.”

Jack is a remotely controlled robot with four arms that reach outward and downward from its upper base, converging at a given site with interchangeable surgical implements. One arm contains a pair of cameras in a single metal tube; these cameras send images to the visor at the surgeon’s control station.

A separate image for each eye allows the surgeon to see a 3-D image through the visor, a technological advance OCH surgery director Jeffrey Tharp said can make the difference between an accurate incision and a permanently severed nerve.

“We do hysterectomies, prostates (and) we also do some partial kidney removal,” Tharp said. “For our patients, (this technology) will mean less pain and faster recovery. Some (patients) may go home the next day and hardly even ask for a pain pill.”

Tharp said the controls are intuitive, and to prove it, attendees were given the opportunity to test drive Jack, moving rubber rings between sets of rubber tendrils. Pinching the rings with Jack’s metal claws meant little more than pinching a finger and thumb together, and foot pedals let guests switch quickly among the three arms and the camera.
The 1080i high-definition image the surgeon sees is also beamed to a third component, a console with a touch-screen television. Tharp said fellow members of the surgical team can draw arrows, circles and other signals on this touch screen, like play-by-play drawings seen in football broadcasts.

“From the surgeon’s console, you can (also) communicate to the field through the speakers on the screen,” Tharp said. “Some people think (because) he’s sitting off to the side of the room ... he’s kind of disconnected from the patient. That’s not so. They’re actually a very integral part of the team. They’re fully connected.”

Dorsey Hardeman, a representative from Intuitive Surgical, said the first three da Vinci systems were installed in 1999, and there are now an estimated 1,800-2,000 systems in America, including about 30 in Mississippi. Jack represents the latest generation of da Vinci technology, he said, and its price ranges from $1.5-2 million.

“(The OCH staff) have really taken great excitement in this tool,” Hardeman said. “What it’s allowed them to do is treat a larger base of patients, really building and advancing the skills they already have.”
Mike Andrews, OCH associate administrator, said patients once had to drive at least one hour away to find da Vinci technology. He said the initiative to purchase a da Vinci machine came from one of its more recent recruits, urologist Kenneth Thomas.

“Most of the new urologists that are graduating now are trained on the da Vinci, and (Thomas) came to us with the idea of us looking at this piece of equipment to improve the quality of health care in this community,” Andrews said. “It’s modern technology that needs to be added ... It keeps our patients in this community.

Before coming to OCH, Thomas worked at the University of Virginia, which he said was one of the first places in America to have robotic surgery systems. With Jack at OCH now, he said he feels right at home.
“There are several surgeries in urology that we can do better (with Jack),” Thomas said. “I have had fairly extensive training in robotics. I’m glad that I can use those skills here in the community.”

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