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New Robotic Device Helps Doctors To Perform Surgeries

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PITT COUNTY, N.C. — Robots are moving into hospital operating rooms.

In the operating room, Da Vinci is Dr. Randolph Chitwood's best friend.

"We're bringing heart surgery to a whole new dimension," he said.

Da Vinci is a robotic device used to perform intricate maneuvers inside the heart. In the past, doctors made large incisions to repair damaged heart valves. With Da Vinci, a tiny incision is made, and the robot's "hands" are inserted inside the heart.

Chitwood sits about 12 feet away at a console. He uses hand controls and foot pedals to move the device. The doctor actually does the work, and the robot mimics his movements.

Doctors at Pitt Memorial Hospital and East Carolina University's School of Medicine are among the first in the world to test the device. Doctors said the device gets rid of any twitches in the hand and allows them to be ambidextrous.

"You can operate with your non-dominant hand as well as you can [with] your dominant hand," Chitwood said.

After a while, surgeons forget their hands are not inside the patient.

"After a while, you operate with your feet, drive the control with your hands," Chitwood said. "You sort of forget what you're doing. You're just operating."

Patients benefit from the process, as well.

"Patients get out of the hospital earlier, [with] less blood transfusions, much faster recovery and [they're faster] getting back to their normal activity," Chitwood said.

So far, surgeons in Greenville have performed 41 mitral valve repair surgeries. Ten other centers in the country are now testing the device as part of a series of U.S. Food and Drug Administration trials.