St. Bernards Begins Robotic Surgery

JONESBORO -- The first-ever robotic-assisted surgery is now underway in Jonesboro at St. Bernards.  What it means for patients is less pain, faster recovery time and less time spent in the hospital. It's all due to a high-tech piece of equipment called "daVinci."

It's a marvel of modern medical technology.  This huge octopus-looking like device called daVinci features two artificial hands, along with a light and a camera that allow physicians to do things locally they've never done before.

"It's just amazing what it can do," said Dr. J. Cranfill, a Jonesboro urologist.  "It will do more than what your hand can do."

St. Bernards lays claim to having the first robotic technology of this kind in Jonesboro at a pricetag of 1.5 million dollars.  The hospital announced six area physicians are trained so far to use the laproscopic surgerical equipment --primarily being used for hysterectomies and prostatectomies--or surgeries involving the prostate.

"The muscles trying to heal is where the pain comes from after surgery," said Dr. Joseph Keuter.  "With the robotic surgery, we do several very small incisions.  One centimeter or less, if you added them all up, they would still not total the length of an open incision."

And then there's the precision.  The robotic arms have hinges that allow seven degrees of motion greater than the human wrist.

"It doesn't matter how steady a physician's hands might be, there's still going to be just a little bit of tremor," explained Dr. Steven Emerson, a Jonesboro OB-GYN.  "Every time your heart beats, you're going to have a little tremor.  But, the daVinci makes every movement smooth and very precise."

To see just what it's like to sit behind the controls, I had the chance to try it out for myself.   Watch that quarter as I move it back and forth almost effortlessly.  Translate that into tiny movements during surgery--such as making sutures and you can see how this technology will benefit patients.

"You can see lymph nodes," said Amy Haun, daVinci coordinator for St. Bernards.  "You can see vessels.  And again, the issues that you talk about with incontinence and impotence are very important to males obviously during these prostatectomies.  These are things that we can take care of better in a precise fashion."

Something that patients will want to know is that the doctor performing this surgery is still in the same room...just a few feet away should there be any complications.

Less blood loss, less scarring, less chance of infection and shorter recovery times.  Pluses for the patient:

"Normally for a prostatectomy, the patient is in the hospital for four or five days," said Dr. Cranfill.  "With the daVinci, they're going to spend one night in the hospital."

The daVinci systems are used also used in Little Rock, Memphis and at the White River Medical Center in Batesville.