Surgical robot debuts at PBMC

Dr. Hannah Ortiz (left) with Denise Sears of Holtsville, who two weeks ago became the first patient to undergo robotic surgery at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead.

Earlier this month 39-year-old Denise Sears checked into Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead to undergo a hysterectomy.

Four hours later, Dr. Hannah Ortiz had successfully removed her reproductive organs. But this surgery had a twist. The doctor and patient were on different sides of the room.

Dr. Ortiz’s hands never made an incision.

Ms. Sears, a nurse’s aid from Holtsville, was the first patient at Peconic Bay Medical Center to undergo surgery using the hospital’s new da Vinci surgical robot.

The da Vinci uses state-of-the-art technology to remotely perform prostate, gynecological and renal operations, among other procedures, hospital officials said.

Dr. Ortiz, director of the hospital’s gynecological oncology robotic surgery program, demonstrated the new machine for members of the press and hospital staff in the Peconic Bay lobby last Thursday.

Tying a knot using a needle, thread and tiny clamps at the end of the robot’s arm, Dr. Ortiz drew a round of applause from onlookers watching her movements on high definition monitors.

She noted the fine movements of the robot are less invasive than traditional surgery and shorten recuperating time after operations.

“It’s become a wonderful way of getting women back on their feet,” said Dr. Ortiz, the only female board-certified gynecological oncologist in Suffolk County.

To use the machine, the surgeon, sitting at a separate console, operates two remote robot hands via video screen, hand controls and foot pedals. There are two monitors, one for each eye, giving the doctor 3-D depth perception while operating.

“It actually feels like your inside the patient doing surgery,” added Dr. Scott Press, a urological surgeon who will also be using the new machine.

Peconic Bay and Stony Brook University Medical Center are the only hospitals in Suffolk County to boast da Vinci robots.

Dr. Ortiz said the 360-degree rotating hand is actually a better instrument than the human wrist. The robot’s fine motor control allows for smaller incisions, less bleeding and less pain for patients.

Nine days after her March 11 surgery, Ms. Sears, who has undergone numerous procedures while battling endometriosis, a reproductive condition that renders women infertile, said she felt great. She said her trust in Dr. Ortiz precluded any fears, though she won’t return to her job at Mather Memorial Hospital for some six weeks as she heals.

Though this month marked the first time Dr. Ortiz used the robot in New York, she said she had used it while working in Miami. Her training began with online tests. Surgeons then train on animals — Dr. Ortiz trained using pigs and Dr. Press using dogs — before working with a proctor on a human patient. Now they perform the same surgeries they have done countless times, but using the robot.

“It doesn’t feel like you’re doing something new,” Dr. Press said.

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About the da Vinci robot

* The system was named after artist Leonardo da Vinci, who is credited with inventing the first robot.

* The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared the da Vinci Surgical System for use in operations in 2000.

* More than 1,000 units have been sold worldwide for operation in hospitals.

* The robot costs about $1.3 million, in addition to several hundred thousand dollars in annual maintenance fees.

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