Reprinted with permission,
Courtesy, Asbury Park Press, a Gannett Co. newspaper.
CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
LONG BRANCH, NJ, February
1, 2007 - After operating the $1.5 million-plus robotic
surgery system at Monmouth Medical Center, the consensus of
students from two science-based academies was it was way cool.
Monmouth Medical Center recently hosted students from the Marine
Academy of Science and Technology at Sandy Hook and the Academy
of Allied Health and Science in Neptune for a lunchtime seminar
on robotic surgery and a hands-on opportunity to operate the
da Vinci Surgical System manufactured by Intuitive Surgical in
"I think it is really neat," said Matt Michel, 17, a senior
at Allied who lives in Wall and hopes to get into bio-technical
engineering after college graduation. "It is cool. I get to have
experience with it . . . and see what's coming out in the field.
"I didn't realize how sensitive it really is," he said. "I didn't
expect it to have the dexterity of your hands."
Darshan Shastri, 17, of Howell, another senior at Allied who
wants to go into bio-tech engineering, said, "It's really cool.
It is very easy to get the hang of it."
Opinions didn't change with Robert Yaffe, 17, a senior at Allied
"You hear about this kind of technology all the time, but to
be able to use it is pretty cool," Yaffe said.
Jennifer Lyons, 17, a senior at Allied from Wall who hopes to
go to medical school, enjoyed her time at the computer console.
"I thought it was really cool," she said. "After the first few
seconds, it got easier to use."
The Long Branch medical center, the only one in the region to
offer robotic-assisted surgery, brought the equipment online
Students heard from Lourens J. Willekes II, medical director
of the hospital's Lung Cancer program, and Robert A. Graebe,
chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at the medical center.
Because the surgeon must use joysticks to operate the system's
four arms, it offers something to which young people can relate.
"I play a lot of X-box, that really has helped," said Willekes
who was trained in the system at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center,
Newark. "It comes a little bit easier when you have that background.
The robot doesn't do the surgery. We still have to do the surgery."
And doing the surgery is exactly what is happening — from
gynecologic to urologic to chest surgeries, the robotic-assisted
system is on the forefront. Within a year, the hospital will
be performing between 500 and 1,000 cases annually with the system,
which will mean it will need a second da Vinci, predicted Graebe.
The da Vinci System cannot be programmed or take any action
on its own to move the instruments, the physicians said. But
it can eliminate a wrist tremor by the physician.
"It filters it out," Graebe said. "You look like you're the
steadiest race car driver. You don't have any nervous movements."
The surgeon sits at a console where he or she manipulates joysticks.
Each time a joystick is moved, a computer signal is sent to one
of four arms that are positioned inside the patient. Those arms
contain instruments that can cut, grab, dissect or suture. The
instruments can be endoscopes, scalpels, forceps, scissors or
dissectors. The surgeon sees the surgical field in 3-D. "You
prefer to work always in 3-D," Graebe said. "Once you see it
in 3-D, you're spoiled. If 3-D is available, I wouldn't operate
Grant Cornero, 17, a MAST junior from Wall, was also impressed
by the precision of the machine.
"I was amazed at the extreme steadiness," he said. "If you hold
the tools yourself, your hands would shake. But they will not
move" with the aid of the machine.
He sees himself as a potential customer.
"It is minimally evasive," he said. "Before, they would have
to cut you from chest to pelvis. Now, they only have to make
four small holes."
These students — if they pursue medicine — will
one day work on machines that are a great deal more sophisticated,
physicians said. Already medical residents are being trained
in robotic surgery, as well as conventional methods.
The surgeons say robotic-assisted surgery is the wave of the
future, considering the growth of minimally-invasive procedures,
which allow quicker healing, less scarring and reduced costs
"That technology has finally arrived and everyone wants the
Playstation 3," Graebe said of the need to remain constantly
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