Springfield students get chance to perform robotic ‘surgery’

Students in an engineering club from Schaefer Middle School got the chance this week to perform “surgery” using a robot at Springfield Regional Medical Center.

Seven students who are part of Gateway to Technology, a pre-engineering class, Wednesday took control of a surgical robot they will soon name at the hospital and used it to unwrap lollipops in seconds.

The $1.2 million DaVinci surgical system purchased in 2012 is a three-piece unit that has a camera and surgical arms that allow doctors to perform complex, detailed surgeries in tight, confined places within the body that would typically be a struggle for surgeons.

Adrianna Earles, 13, was one of the students who learned how to use the machine.

“It took a second to get the hang of it, but once I got it, it was really easy. It was like playing a video game,” Earles said.

Dr. A.J. Annamraju, a urologist, said physicians use the machine for surgeries such as colon cancer removal, gall bladder, esophageal, kidney tumor, lung cancer removal, hysterectomy and prostate and bladder.

“It allows us to do very precise surgery with small incisions and allows generally less pain, a quicker recovery and less blood loss,” Annamraju said.

He said surgeries with the machine are longer due to set up time and are more expensive for patients.

Annamraju added robotic surgery is not used for all types of surgeries.

He describes the machine as a large computer that sends a physician’s instructions to the robotic arms.

Annamraju said he wouldn’t describe the machine as a video game like Earles, but can understand how she and other students would compare the technology.

“You’re remotely doing something like when you’re using a video game. You’re using a controller, but on the screen it’s doing something far more. I understand why they feel that way. But it’s not a game,” Annamraju said laughing.

Annamraju said he hopes exposure to the technology excited the students and sparked an interest that will help them in the future.

Morgan Soto, a Gateway teacher who has had robotic surgery, said the students will come up with at least three names for the robot that will be given to the hospital board. She said the hospital and school wanted the students to use the machine to get them excited about naming it.

Soto also hopes the exposure to the surgical robot will have a lasting impact on the students.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, let alone kids in such an urban environment,” Soto said. “I can only offer them so much at the school when it comes to robotics. But being able to give them this kind of exposure to it, it puts it into a real-world perspective for them and I hope that it encourages some of them to go into the field of either surgery or robotics.”