By chris conrad
As a fix-it guy who knows his way around complex meteorological equipment, Warren Wymore is no stranger to technology — which is why he felt fine with a $1.5 million robot named “Bob” poking around his abdomen to repair a gall bladder infection in December.
Wymore, 47, is one of the many people who stagger into Rogue Regional Medical Center with gall bladder issues, ranging from infections to full-on bladder meltdowns that require removal.
More and more often, these surgeries are performed by highly trained doctors with the aid of a multi-armed robot that they direct from a console that resembles a vintage arcade game.
The hospital began performing the single-site surgeries last year.
Robotic surgery is not new, but the latest version of this technology allows doctors to direct tiny mechanical arms through a single hole in the patient’s abdomen. The surgeon controls the action from a station across the room.
A small incision was made near Wymore’s belly button — the only opening Dr. Nancy O’Neal, of Oregon Surgical Specialists, needed to maneuver the arms of the surgery robot.
“The robot is just a tool, like a fancier version of a scalpel,” O’Neal said. “It gives me, as a surgeon, a lot more control over what is happening in the abdomen.”
The 1,400-pound robot resembles an octopus, with legs jutting out at several angles from its core. The surgery team attaches the proper extensions to the arms, and these extensions snake their way into the abdomen to reach the gall bladder, which rests just below the liver.
In the past, gall bladder surgery involved at least two incisions and often left a scar along the patient’s side that stretched half a foot. Wymore opted for the robotic surgery after hearing about the minimal scarring and quick recovery time.
“I was down for one day, and back to work at a desk within a week,” Wymore said.
The surgery team named the robot “Bob” as a shorthand way of communicating in the operating room.
“As we’re getting ready, we say, Hey, go get Bob,’ instead of something like, Go get the robot,’ ” said Tim Navarro, a registered nurse.
The surgery can be performed in about one hour, with a typical hospital stay of less than 24 hours.
During the procedure, the surgeon sits comfortably at the console, viewing a three-dimensional, high-definition image of the patient’s innards.
The system becomes the surgeon’s hands, wrists and fingers for precise movements of the instruments weaving their way inside the patient.
The technology was developed on the battlefield, where doctors could operate on soldiers in Iraq from consoles in Germany, Navarro said.
The single-site surgery is used only on gall bladder patients, but O’Neal said the technology will expand to other surgeries pending Federal Drug Administration approval.
Between 10 and 20 gall bladder surgeries are performed per week at the hospital.
“It’s hard to believe anyone in the valley has their gall bladder,” O’Neal said.
On Friday, Wymore visited the operating room for the first time after his surgery. Once there, he said hello to “Bob” and thanked the machine for helping to ease his pain.
“It’s a pretty neat machine,” Wymore said.
Of course, “Bob” is only a machine, as any doctor will remind you.
“I always tell people that it’s a surgeon, not a robot, that does their surgery,” O’Neal said.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.