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Beth Israel is armed for precision surgery
Newark hospital gets latest robotics system

Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff

There's a new da Vinci in town -- but this one is devoted to the surgeon's art.

Newark Beth Israel Medical Center is opening its Robotic Training Center, featuring the new $1.5 million da Vinci S Surgical System. The new system allows for greater precision in performing minimally invasive operations.

Doctors from all over the world are expected to train at the center -- one of only three sites in the country to have the latest da Vinci robot. The other two are The Methodist Hospital in Houston, affiliated with the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, and the Sunnyvale, Calif., headquarters of the robot's manufacturer, Intuitive Surgical Inc.

The original da Vinci system was cleared by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000 and is used by Beth Israel as well as other hospitals around the state. The da Vinci S hit the market only this past January.

Surgeons at Beth Israel are already using the new system -- which boasts three robotic arms and an arm holding a surgical camera, or endoscope -- in operations including heart, prostate, OB-GYN, oncology and those involving the head and neck.

"This robot affords surgeons more mobility to move around inside the patient. Ten years ago, no one would have ever dreamed of this technology," said Dennis Bordan, chairman of surgery at Newark Beth Israel. The hospital is part of the Saint Barnabas Healthcare System.

In robotically assisted operations, the surgeon sits at a console a few feet away from the operating table, viewing a magnified three-dimensional view of the surgical field.

The instrument controls on the console allow the surgeon to manipulate the robotic arms stationed on a cart beside the patient, which essentially become the doctor's hands and wrists.

"The robot can't do anything without the surgeon," Bordan stressed. "It's really an assistant."

He said "no matter how rock steady" a doctor is when operating, all of us are subject to inaccuracies in movement, such as tremoring. That's why this robot, which eliminates the human flaws, is so helpful, he added.

"It makes your movements more accurate and much more precise," he said. "And now the instrument ends are articulated so you can move in directions other than just up and down and left and right."

Doctors operate through several dime-size incisions, which results in less bleeding, post-operative pain and scarring. As a result, patients generally recover much faster, Bordan said.

Officials of Intuitive Surgical said the robotic arms on the new system provide surgeons with a greater range of motion. Doctors say this is especially helpful for operations such as some cancer surgery involving reaching lesions deep in the throat.

The system is also easier to set up and disassemble than the original da Vinci, in part because the robot is motorized, said Alexis Morgan, a spokeswoman for Intuitive Surgical.

The system was named for Leonardo da Vinci, who is reputed to have invented the robot, Morgan said.

Two weeks ago, John Leffler, 63, of Sparta underwent a minimally invasive operation at Newark Beth Israel, using the latest robotic system, to remove part of his prostate gland. He stayed in the hospital just one night, and his recovery has been a speedy one.

Leffler said he was out of bed and walking around with assistance the night of the surgery, which amazed him.

"I was pleasantly surprised because I know sometimes there can be some complications afterward like bladder control," he said. "I didn't experience that."

Leffler, an administrator at Montclair State University, said he knew his surgeon, Domenic Savatta, would be assisted by a robot, but he read up on the technology and was comfortable with it.

"I think the skills are in the surgeon's hands, no matter which way you are doing it," he said.

Angela Stewart writes about health care. She may be reached by e-mail at or at 973 392-4178

© 2006 The Star Ledger
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