Mt. Vernon Register-News

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April 9, 2013

Robot hot among surgeons but FDA taking a new look

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Ayloo, who uses the da Vinci robot, last year began a study on the effectiveness of doing robotic obesity surgery in patients who need a kidney transplant. Some hospitals won't do transplants on obese patients with kidney failure because it can be risky. In the study, robotic stomach-shrinking surgery and kidney transplants are done simultaneously. Patients who get both will be compared with a control group getting only robotic kidney transplants.

"We don't know the results, but so far it's looking good," Ayloo said.

Aidee Diaz of Chicago was the first patient and was taken aback when told the dual operation would be done robotically.

"At first you would get scared. Everybody says, 'A robot?' But in the long run that robot does a lot of miracles," said Diaz, 36.

She has had no complications since her operation last July, has lost 100 pounds and says her new kidney is working well.

Lawsuits in cases that didn't turn out so well often cite inadequate surgeon training with the robot. These include a malpractice case that ended last year with a $7.5 million jury award for the family of Juan Fernandez, a Chicago man who died in 2007 after robotic spleen surgery. The lawsuit claimed Fernandez's surgeons accidentally punctured part of his intestines, leading to a fatal infection.

The surgeons argued that Fernandez had a health condition that caused the intestinal damage, but it was the first robot operation for one of the doctors and using the device was overkill for an ordinarily straightforward surgery, said Fernandez's attorney, Ted McNabola.

McNabola said an expert witness told him it was like "using an 18-wheeler to go the market to get a quart of milk."

Company spokesman Geoff Curtis said Intuitive Surgical has physician-educators and other trainers who teach surgeons how to use the robot. But they don't train them how to do specific procedures robotically, he said, and that it's up to hospitals and surgeons to decide "if and when a surgeon is ready to perform robotic cases."

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