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New USF center will provide robot-assisted surgery training


The University of South Florida unveiled Monday a $4 million center to train doctors to do the kind of robot-assisted surgery that sent Cheryl Jordan home early.

And happy.

Typically, doctors say, patients who have the type of hysterectomy that Jordan had spend at least three to four days in the hospital. Many are discharged in pain and on drugs.

But Jordan had her hysterectomy on a Saturday. She went home the following Monday. The very next day, she felt peppy enough to go to work for a couple of hours.

"I'm back walking and eager to start running," said Jordan, 37, a family medicine physician who lives in Stuart. "Life is good."

The difference was a multi­million-dollar machine designed to let doctors perform delicate robot-assisted surgery with a minimum of cutting, blood loss and pain.

USF Health sees the demand for such high-tech surgery — and doctors trained to do it — on the rise.

So on Monday the university announced a partnership with the California company Intuitive Surgical Inc. to open a center for computer-assisted surgery at USF's College of Medicine.

It is one of two centers nationwide using the company's latest technology to teach doctors-in-training and community physicians to perform robot-assisted surgery.

"It's the kind of future we want to promote, where education is constant, where people are looking at Tampa Bay and USF as the leader," USF Health chief executive Stephen Klasko said.

Up to 600 doctors a year are expected to come to the center and pay $3,000 a day to learn to use the company's trademarked da Vinci Surgical Systems.

USF paid $2.25 million for the company's most advanced robotic surgery system, which came out in April. The company also agreed to loan the university a $1.8 million system now in use at many hospitals. Together, administrators say, those two systems will give USF the equipment needed to teach physicians from across the South and beyond.

The manufacturer and USF says this is not robots doing surgery. Doctors do the operations. But the da Vinci Surgical Systems offer big advantages over "open" surgery and laparoscopic surgery, in which doctors use instruments on long, narrow probes to perform procedures.

For one thing, the latest model of the da Vinci machine gives doctors a high-definition, three-dimensional view of what they're working on. To show off that capability, USF administrators invited visitors Monday to operate on a grape.

On the viewer, the grape appeared to be about the size of a cantaloupe. Hand controls for the instruments — mini-scissors and what looked like a pair of tiny steel chopsticks — gave even beginners a sense of dexterity.

"Wow," Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said after using the $2.25 million machine to peel a grape. "This is great. You can see how if you trained on it you could be really precise."

But the surgeon's skill is still paramount.

In 2002, Plant High School teacher
Al Greenway died after surgeons at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa accidentally cut two blood vessels while trying to use a da Vinci robot-assisted machine to remove his cancerous kidney.

Greenway's widow sued the hospital, accusing St. Joseph's of letting doctors inexperienced with the robot perform his surgery. The case was settled out of court. Intuitive Surgical was not a party to the lawsuit.

A company executive said Monday that what happened to Greenway was very rare, and said Intuitive Surgical's training regimen for surgeons has evolved since its products were introduced a decade ago. The company has sold more than 1,200 of the machines worldwide, mostly in the United States and Europe.

Doctors learn to how to use the machine to do surgical procedures they already know how to do, said Darla Hutton, Intuitive Surgical's clinical sales manager for Florida.

The latest model of the system gives a supervising physician the chance to sit beside the trainee, see what the doctor doing the surgery sees and, if necessary, take the controls.

"It's like driver's ed," Hutton said.

During their training, surgeons learn to use the da Vinci machine by practicing on models, tissue, dead pigs and sometimes cadavers. Once trained, doctors are supervised by a more experienced surgeon during the first procedures they do on live patients with the da Vinci Surgical System.

Dr. Lennox Hoyte, the medical director of the new training center, compared it to a $1.5 million surgical simulation center that USF opened at Tampa General Hospital in the spring.

Both, he said, put the university at the forefront of surgical training and the use of technologies that will lead to less bleeding, less pain and faster recoveries for patients.

"This center will teach surgeons how to use these robots," Hoyte said, "but the picture is really bigger than that."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Richard Danielson can be reached at or (813) 269-5311.

New USF center will provide robot-assisted surgery training 08/10/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 11:57am]
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