School team sees hospital surgical robot in action

By By FARRAH DUFFANY

MERIDEN, Conn. (AP) — Twenty high school students pulled and stretched white hair nets over their heads and climbed into blue scrubs as they prepared to enter the operating room at MidState Medical Center in Meriden.

The students, members of Southington High School's robotics team, were on a field trip on a recent day to learn about robotic surgery, use the da Vinci Surgical System and see it in action.

Before the students entered the operating room, they were briefed on the surgical robot by Joseph Peccerillo, a MidState surgeon, Andrew Degenhardt, a clinical sales representative at Intuitive Surgical, and Marcy DiPasquale, the head robotics nurse at MidState.

"The wrist of the instrument kind of moves around like the wrist of my hand," said Peccerillo.

Peccerillo mentioned how precise the robot is and that while performing surgery, the tiny camera can zoom in and maximize what he is looking at up to 10 times, making even the smallest part of the human body seem large. It is also steadier than a human's hands are, he said.

"The robot gets rid of that tremor . it minimizes that motion or minimizes that tremor," Peccerillo said.

Students learned that the da Vinci system is used to perform laparoscopic surgery, or surgery that is minimally invasive. With the guiding hand of a surgeon, the robot can perform minor to major surgeries.

"The cheapest system is under $1 million," said Degenhardt, who answered one of the student's questions in the conference room.

As the students zipped up their scrubs, many laughed and poked fun at one another. Sandra Brino, the robotics team mentor, snapped a picture of a group of students, saying "this is going on Facebook."

Although there are 65 students on the robotics team, Brino asked those who were interested in biomedical engineering to join the field trip as a chance to see the career in "real life."

"All of the students here are potentially interested in that line of work," Brino said.

"It's a bridge to something they can relate to in the real world," said Janet Angelillo, a parent-volunteer on the robotics team.

When the two doors to the operating room opened, many students were wowed when greeted by a large white robot hovering over an operating table. Instead of watching a surgery, the students were able to put the robot in action themselves by playing games.

One by one, students sat at the surgeon console of the da Vinici or what Degenhardt referred to as the "main cockpit," to play the classic board game "Operation," gently picking pieces out of a cartoon character's body without hitting the edges. Students also could use a simulation robot to play the game "Jacks," which consists of grabbing pieces and placing them into a cup according to color.

To maneuver the robot, students used their index fingers and thumbs to control the arms and two fingers of the robot. They squeezed their fingers together to pick up items, rotated their wrists to navigate and released their fingers to let go of what the robot was holding. At the end of the game, the machine rated the accuracy of the students.

"It felt pretty easy to use," said Andrew Gorham, a freshman who was the first to play Operation. "It's a marvel in the field."

Sofia Ricciardi, a sophomore, used the simulation robot and scored 95 percent accuracy.

"It felt like, you were almost doing it yourself," Ricciardi said. "It felt like the robot was an extension of my own body."

"It's very intuitive," Peccerillo said. "It makes sense, that's why they are able to do so well."

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Information from: Record-Journal, http://www.record-journal.com

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