Robot makes a hot-shot surgeon

The newest member of the surgical team at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett is a four-armed robot.

Costing $1.5 million, the machine allows surgeons to sit behind a computer console and look into a screen for a high-definition, three-dimensional view inside the body that can be magnified up to 10 times.

Surgical attachments are snapped onto the end of the robotic arms that can be twisted and turned like a human wrist. The instruments are used for cutting, clipping and sewing up incisions.

Judy Canfield, director of surgery, said this is the fourth hospital she’s worked at where the robot has been used to assist in surgery.

The smaller incisions needed for the robotic equipment allow for quicker recoveries. She said she sometimes has to hurry to see patients the day after surgery before they’re headed out of the hospital “with a handful of ibuprofen and a smile.”

The apparatus, one of about 750 in the country, will be used on its first patients in Everett beginning next week as part of their treatment for prostate cancer, said Dr. Tony Chen, a urologist.

“A lot of patients have been reading about it as the newest and best thing and asking for it,” he said. “You see someone with a great outcome and they say, ‘That’s what I want.’ “

The robotic arms allow surgeons easier access to the prostate, which is located toward the back of the lower abdomen, with smaller incisions than with traditional surgery, he said.

Since the machine allows doctors to make smaller incisions on patients, recovery time is faster, there’s less scarring and risk of infection, said Tom Brennan, a vice president of development for the hospital.

For example, instead of a 4- to 5-inch incision in prostate surgery, there are several half-inch incisions. The biggest cut — about 1 1/2 inches — is needed to have enough space to remove the prostate, Chen said.

During the first prostate surgeries using the robot next week, a third surgeon, who also has received special training in using the machinery, will be on hand to help supervise the procedures, he said.

A camera is attached to one of the robotic arms provides a magnified views of the surgical area that can be seen by the surgeon on the console’s screen. It also is displayed on a nearby computer where the surgery can be monitored by the rest of the operating room team.

With pedals on the floor that allow physicians to adjust the camera’s field of view by zooming in and out, “it’s almost like playing the piano,” Chen said.

By next week, five physicians will be trained to use the hospital’s robot either for prostate surgery or gynecological procedures, such as hysterectomies.

It may also be used for cardiac procedures when the hospital opens its new 12-story medical tower in 2011, Brennan said.

Glen Gronning of Lake Stevens attended Thursday’s open house to get an closer view of the machinery used at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle for his prostate surgery in November 2007.

He left the day after the surgery, taking only a few of the post-surgery pain pills he was prescribed.

“Two days later, I was taking the little dog for a walk,” he said.

“I knew it was the latest thing out,” Gronning said of why he traveled to Seattle to have the procedure done with the robotic machinery.

“This is the best thing that’s happened in the Everett area,” his wife, Connie Gronning, said. “To drive to Virginia Mason when you live up here and you’re scared, and nervous. … I’m just thrilled it’s here.”

Reporter Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or

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