Local News

Robotic Surgery Is Option In Raleigh

Posted February 23, 2005 4:28 a.m. EST

— More hospitals are turning to robots for some procedures like heart valve replacements and prostate surgery. It is happening at WakeMed in Raleigh. The robot's name is DaVinci, but skilled human surgeons are still in control.

Dr. Robert Matthews has removed hundreds of cancerous prostate glands the old way -- through open surgery. Now, he is trying it sitting down at the remote controls of the DaVinci robot. He said he likes what it offers the patient.

"Less pain, less time in the hospital, quicker return to normal functioning," he said.

The robot works through four small-entry incisions. With standard open surgery, there's a four-inch opening. To get inside, the surgeon has to pull back layers of muscle.

"It feels like that afterward. It's a pulled muscle, literally," Matthews said.

The laproscopic arms easily slide past muscle and through tissue. From across the room, the surgeon controls the tiny tools. They mimic the movement of the human wrist and fingers. An electrified hook cuts tissue and seals off bleeding. Blood loss is a third to half of that of open surgery.

While others see the work on a two-dimensional flat screen, the surgeon's view is virtual reality.

"When I'm looking through the console, what I see is a three-dimensional image," Matthews said.

As long as another surgeon is ready in case of problems, the one who sits at DaVinci's remote controls could, theoretically, be almost anywhere in the world.

"It's quite reasonable that you could sign up to have surgery by a surgeon who never actually meets you or comes into the room," Matthews said.

In regards to prostate surgery, not everyone is a good candidate for DaVinci. It does not work as well for patients with cancer that has spread beyond the prostate gland or for those who have had open abdominal surgery before. The biggest drawback to the system, for now, is most surgeons have very few robotic procedures under their belt.