Robotic surgery technology offers high-tech help for the heart
By ANANDA BOARDMAN, The Dallas Morning News Staff Writer
As the doctor's hands moved over the controls at the oddly shaped console, four robotic arms across the room mimicked every movement with scientific precision - inside the patient.
Large screens around the room gave the staff a full view - courtesy of a camera attached to one of those arms - as the patient had only four small incisions open.
Click here to see the video.
Robots have been used in surgery since the 1980s, but the technology is now more widely available in hospitals across North Texas, whether they are used for prostate surgery or heart procedures.
The main beneficiaries are patients. The high-tech advances allow doctors to perform complex surgeries that are less invasive and require shorter recovery times.
"Recuperation is so quick; it doesn't disrupt your life," said Terri Ricketts, 61, who had a robotic ablation to correct an irregular heartbeat. The resident of Blue Ridge, in Collin County, went home the day after surgery.
Dr. Kim Jett, a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon, said it's a "win-win situation."
"It's better for the surgeon because we can see better, we can manipulate better and ... it generates a better operation," he said.
Robotic assistance for prostate and gynecological procedures has been common for years.
At THE HEART HOSPITAL Baylor Plano, robots are now used for some cardiac and thoracic procedures.
"I think that the robot is going to revolutionize thoracic surgery," said Jett, who is the Heart Hospital's medical director for thoracic robotics. "It's going to be great for heart surgery, [but with] thoracic surgery I think that all chest operations will be able to be done with the robot."
During procedures, the doctor sees what is happening inside the patient in a three-dimensional camera image - blown up 10 times the actual size.
THE HEART HOSPITAL has used the $1.9 million da Vinci Surgical System - with three arms wielding instruments and a fourth holding the camera - since November.
Scott Weathersby of Sherman, who has had several traditional operations, had his first robotic surgery late last year.
Jett performed both a quadruple bypass and a robotic procedure to remove a cancerous lung nodule on Weathersby.
The 71-year-old is already a convert.
"Knowing what I went through before, I'd be a fool not to let him do this," Weathersby said. "I'll tell you, it makes a lot of difference if you do it that way."
The da Vinci robot is not the only new technology at the hospital. The electrophysiology department upgraded to the Epoch platform late last year as well. Epoch is the newest version of remote magnetic navigation; it allows doctors to treat cardiac arrhythmia - or irregular heartbeat - with a magnet-guided catheter wire.
Dr. Brian DeVille, an electrophysiologist, said the computer system shapes the magnetic field, which is used to pull a thin, flexible catheter into the patient's heart.
Once inside, DeVille uses it to ablate - or burn - the tissue that is sending incorrect signals to the heart.
"It gives the physician more control over every aspect" of the procedure, DeVille said. Another set of magnets in the operating table triangulates the location of the catheter to within 1 millimeter, and creates a 3-D map of the heart on the doctor's screen.
The mapping system reduces the radiation exposure for the patient and the doctor during the procedure, as there is less need to X-ray to check the catheter's location.
Ricketts, who had the robotic ablation procedure done in December, was unaware she had an irregular heartbeat until last April, when she suddenly started fainting and running out of energy.
She decided to try an Epoch procedure after other treatments and medications failed.
"I love Dr. DeVille. He's fun and he's so excited about what he's doing," Ricketts said.
Doctors at THE HEART HOSPITAL say they hope the procedures become more common, and they are working on more ways to use the technology, such as replacing heart valves.
"Everybody has a friend that's had robotic surgery," Jett said. "And if you've had robotic surgery, it does impress on you that it's a lot better."