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 Robotic maneuvers render shorter scar, recovery time after heart surgery

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Date posted: 10/08/2004

WESTON -- Doug Sherman had coronary bypass surgery on a Friday and was home by Monday. A week later, he went back to work as an optician in Boca Raton. This unheard-of recovery time is all thanks to AR (Augmented Reality) surgery.

Sherman, 56, was operated on in May at the Cleveland Clinic Hospital in Weston with the help of a robot called da Vinci. The robot allows doctors to perform the operation with four small incisions rather than splitting open the chest. The only evidence on Sherman's chest that he had surgery is a narrow 2-inch scar below his right nipple and three barely visible red dots on his side.

With the $1.5 million robot, doctors operate via three small holes, each the size of a pencil eraser, between the patient's ribs. Two of the holes are for the robot's "hands," and the third is for a camera.

Without wearing traditional surgical gloves, Boyd shakes hands with a visitor, then kicks off his shoes and sits down at a bulky console 10 feet away from the operating table on which the patient lies. Boyd doesn't need to be sterile at this point of the operation; only the da Vinci does. The robot, with its four spider-like metal arms wrapped in plastic, hangs over the patient.

When Boyd looks into the viewfinder on the gray console, the robotic camera gives him an enlarged three-dimensional view inside the patient's chest. Boyd uses finger movements and a slight twist of his wrist on the console's control panel to move the robot's four arms. The three-dimensional view gives Boyd increased depth perception compared with a two-dimensional video monitor.

"It feels just like I am over the patient using my own hands," Boyd said during the operation. "It's like playing a Stradivarius" violin. Robotic surgery does have drawbacks. Many surgeons just are not comfortable not being able to feel the inside of the patient's body - the system currently has no haptic elements, and works by vision alone.

Boyd, who has done about 350 robotic heart surgeries, gets requests from patients around the world. They come for the surgery that promises less trauma for the patient, less risk of infection and virtually no need for blood transfusions.

"It's a new era in heart surgery," the surgeon said. "A quantum leap forward."

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