Robots can vacuum, assemble cars and explore outer space, and now they have successfully taken on a new life-saving task – lending a hand in heart surgery.
In late January, two surgeons at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento performed California’s first robot-assisted cardiac bypass surgery on multiple arteries. The procedure, which uses small instruments attached to robotic arms, leaves patients with significantly smaller incisions, less blood loss and a shorter recovery time.
“Using the optics of the robot with the port access often aids in visualization of areas in the chest and within the heart that cannot be easily visualized by the surgeon in standard procedures,” said Dr. Jerry W. Pratt, associate clinical professor in the UC Davis Health System and one of the surgeons who performed the procedure, in an e-mail interview.
During the procedure, one surgeon stays at the patient’s bedside, while the other sits at a computer console controlling the movements of the robot’s arms. Hand-held devices mimic the surgeon’s actions, allowing the robot to make tiny incisions in the patient and then place a small camera and medical instruments inside the body.
The robot’s size enables it to perform movements more precise than those of a human hand. Additionally, it also eliminates the need for a heart-lung machine, so the patient’s heart does not have to be stopped during the operation, said Dr. W. Douglas Boyd, the other surgeon involved with the procedure and a specialist in robotic-assisted heart surgery, in an e-mail interview. This decreases risks traditionally faced by patients who are attached to the device.
“The heart-lung machine causes physiological trauma, including systemic inflammatory reaction that often results in anemia and swelling after conventional heart surgery,” Boyd said.
Incisions made during robotic-assisted surgery are not only reduced to the size of a keyhole, but are made between the patient’s ribs, avoiding the six-to-eight inch cut and cracking open of the breastbone required in traditional heart surgery. The procedure reduces recovery time from six to eight weeks to just one to four, according to the UC Davis Health System’s website.
Both surgeons will continue to utilize robotic technology. Boyd performed a single-vessel robotic-assisted coronary artery bypass surgery last week, and the two have another scheduled for early March, Pratt said.
“I think that the technology will continue to evolve to allow surgeons to further refine their skills, obtain all sensory stimuli we currently need and move closer to full robotic procedures without compromising the design and intent of the original procedures,” Pratt said.
Boyd also emphasized the importance of this technology.
“Robotically-assisted surgery is the future of heart surgery,” he said. “As new technology and experience improves, robotic surgery will move into the mainstream of application.”
MEGAN MURPHY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.