$2 Million Surgical Robot improving accuracy, healing at Mercy Medical Center

By GWEN HAGAMAN
July 12, 2018

In use for only two months, the new “da Vinci Surgical System” at Dignity Health Mercy Medical Center (MMC) has already assisted doctors with more than 60 patient cases.

It has multiple wristed robotic arms that allow surgeons to perform precise work from a computer console – even in surgical areas where there is almost no space for instruments.
“What the surgeon sees is a magnified view while working with very small objects,” explains Dr. Alfred Johnson, a MMC surgeon who is called the da Vinci program’s Champion. “Movements are very controlled. A robotic arm has no limit on how long it can remain in the same position as human arms do.”
Acquiring the nearly $2 million equipment is a big advancement for MMC. To celebrate, a reception was held Monday evening, July 9, thanking all of the donors who helped raise funds. The four participating surgeons were there, along with the da Vinci surgical team, to answer questions and demonstrate how the equipment works.
“Our volunteer organization made a significant gesture to launch the campaign to purchase da Vinci equipment by pledging $150,000,” said Jacob McDougal, vice president of the Mercy Hospital Foundation (MHF). “We raised over $700,000 – about half the cost – from philanthropy.”
Sally Strasser, a MHF staff member, said: “When I saw the da Vinci truck parked in front of the hospital I got emotional. Everyone worked so hard to raise the money. It took us about a year. A lot of the money comes from operating the hospital’s gift shop.”
More than 200 people volunteer at MMC through the foundation, according to Strasser. “Many are retired. We have a good group of college and high school students too,” she said.
People who volunteer at the gift shop work in morning or afternoon 4-hour shifts. They also man the information desks in the main lobby, at the Pavilion and at the Bear Creek facility. Some are trained as substitutes so others may have time off. Some work at fundraising events.
President of Volunteers Ann Yeadon says, “It’s not just a volunteer job, it’s a chance to really help people. You meet a lot of new friends and become part of a family.”
MHF’s biggest fundraisers are the Gala and the Taste of Merced events, which alternate years. “The Chairman gets to pick the theme for the Gala and choose a few things to purchase that the hospital and community need,” began Michelle Symes-Thiara who was recently elected for the next two years as Chairman of the Board of MHF. “I’m looking forward to leading the next Gala.”
The MMC da Vinci team was introduced at the reception. The four doctors are Alfred Johnson, Nadir Adam, Ibrahim Azer and Andrea French. The surgical team includes Director Janet Ruscoe, Manager Melissa Asato, Surgical Technician Janine Castro, RNs Nicole Reynolds and Amber Sanchez. They are joined by da Vinci Trainer Monika Vardeh.
Each member of the team went through extensive training starting with simulations, moving to work on animals, and finally on human patients. The training regimen takes about three months.
The equipment has two major components: The computer console where surgeons have command of the system, and an array of robotic arms positioned above a surgical bed for patients. The surgeon’s face fits into the control console, giving them 3D high definition views of the patient’s surgical site. The view can be enlarged to make tiny objects easy to see.
Each robotic arm may be used for a different task. One or more may be used for a laparoscope, a thin tube with a tiny lighted camera at the tip. Other tools – for cutting, sewing, or clamping – may be attached to the arms. Since all of these tools are very small, they may enter through one or a few “trocars” or ports in the patient’s body. A da Vinci procedure will not require a large surgical opening like many traditional ones do, helping the patient have less pain and faster healing.
The da Vinci system provides an advanced step beyond laparoscopic surgery, according to Dr. Nadir Adam. “The robotic system has higher accuracy, requires smaller incision and patients have less pain. One surgeon can do the work of two surgeons by using the array of robotic arms,” he said.
“For example,” Dr. Adam continued, “pelvic surgeries are difficult because it’s a narrow area to work in. With the da Vinci you can see from all angles and in much better detail.”
After being a surgeon for six years, Dr. Ibrahim Azer had a one-year fellowship using da Vinci equipment. He says he worked on more than 400 cases during that year. He brings that experience to MMC.
“An excellent procedure for the robotic system is a single site Cholecystectomy,” Dr. Azer explained. It’s removal of a gall bladder through only one incision located in your naval, leaving no visible scars. “I did the first one ever here in Merced County [with the new technology] in late May and since have done several more. Patients may go home the same day and recover quickly.”

For more information about the da Vinci Surgical System at Dignity Health Mercy Medical Center, or to volunteer at the hospital through Mercy Hospital Foundation, call 209.564.4200 or email MercyFoundationMerced@DignityHealth.org.


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