Volume 93, Issue 26

Wednesday, March 18, 1999


Throne speech fails to enthral

Robotic arm helps make history

Biotech incubator to attract research business

Harris makes hushed appearance at Western

Gas stations disconnect cellphones

Organization is key to conference


Caught on campus

Robotic arm helps make history

By Tola Afolabi
Gazette Staff

A team of four London doctors are finding that practice makes perfect as they successfully performed robotic-assisted cardiac surgery Wednesday.

Douglas Boyd, assistant professor of surgery at Western and co-director of the Robotic Cardiac Surgeries Program at the London Health Sciences Centre, said the process involves robot arms which perform the actual surgery. "It's a visualization system that runs by voice command," he said, explaining the surgeon's movements are translated to robotic arms attached to the surgical table.

The surgery made medical history on Sept. 24, when it was performed by the team for the first time ever. The patient was John Penner, a 60 year-old farmer who needed a heart bypass. "I had a major artery that was 90 per cent blockage, cutting off a third of the blood supply to my heart," Penner said.

He added he quickly recovered from the six hour surgery and returned home four days later. "Once I was home, I was on no pain killers at all. I felt really great," he said, adding he was pleased with his present physical condition.

Reesa Rayman, clinical associate of cardiac surgery at the LHSC, said the operation is performed without opening the patient's breast-bone. This involves making small incisions and inserting a camera by which the surgeon can view the heart and then perform the surgery.

The development of the procedure was a multi-step process, explained Alan Menkis, professor of surgery at Western. "The first step was to work on the beating heart through small incisions through the ribs." A robotic camera and then the robotic arms themselves were later introduced, he added.

Rayman said he was optimistic about community acceptance towards the surgery. He added the amount of success the patients of these surgeries have, eases some of the skepticism which faces new technology and complicated surgery. "I would say that the adaptation rate will be rather fast. One of the benefits is that the robotic arms are small – they are about the width of a pencil."

Robotic-assisted surgery will soon become an option for all surgeons, he said. "I think you're going to see more minimal invasive techniques applied in all areas of surgery – not just cardiac."

Recovery from the surgery is rapid, he added. "Potentially, the patient can be walking that evening."

Boyd said the process will also be cost saving for hospitals. "We believe this will be a successful endeavour. [Patients will] be able to enjoy a 24 to 48 hour stay in the hospital."

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Copyright The Gazette 1999