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Technically speaking Fifth-graders try out surgical robot

SEBRING A class of Fred Wild Elementary fifth-graders can tell their parents they played with Legos on Wednesday as part of their studies. With a smile they can add that the play session took place in a hospital with a $1.8 million surgical robot. The Advanced Academics students started their school day Wednesday at South Florida State College where two professors from the University of Central Florida spoke about the importance of physics and math studies and to consider a career in simulation and robotics. Later at Highlands Regional Medical Center (HRMC), the students were eager to try out the hospital’s da Vinci surgical robot.
HRMC CEO Brian Hess said the hospital has a lot of “really cool technology” to find out why a patient is sick or can’t fully function. Director of Surgery Mary Ferguson provided an overview of the da Vinci to the students and told them, “If any of you want to pursue this robotics, it’s a wonderful field to go into.” Wearing light-blue hairnets and surgical face masks, the students were ready to go to work. They took turns placing a Lego hardhat on a Lego worker using the da Vinci surgical robot, which is equipped with dual cameras that provide a three-dimensional view of the area of operation (Lego set in this case). Kenneth Palmerton had the first crack at trying the robot. He peered into the machine’s viewfinder and operated the hand controls. HRMC Associate Administrator Robert Palussek noted, “It looks very simple, but it’s not.” The school district’s K-12 science specialist Dorothea Strickland said, “He’s doing a great job.” After about five minutes controlling the surgical robot, Palmerton’s turn was up. “It hurts your eyes,” he said. Brian Guedes gave it a try and said, “You had had to use your thumb and pointer finger to move around the arms.” It’s a little bit like a video game, he said. Tracie Capalbo said, “It was very fun; it was very easy.” The screen was very realistic, she added. General surgeon Dr. Thomas Lackey explained the benefits of the robot by first noting the limitations of rotating one’s hand, which can only be rotated so far. “But with the robot you can completely turn your hand all the way around,” he said. “So if you are in a really tight space you can move and maneuver 360 degrees without having to move at all.” He can use the robot for gall bladder surgery, colon surgery and to operate on hernias, Lackey said. Surgical robots can also be used for surgeries in the chest such as lungs, heart and vessels. A student asked if the robot was more precise than doing surgery by hand. Lackey responded, “It is more precise. You can actually turn in a smaller space and do things from a finer technical standpoint.” Also, the view for the surgeon can be magnified a number of times, he said. Student Vianey Gonzalez won the Name the Robot contest with Voss pulling the student’s name at random from a box containing the names of each student and their suggested name for the da Vinci surgical robot. Gonzalez dubbed the robot “Leo Davi.” The full-day program was part of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council’s techPATH initiative to cultivate tomorrow’s workforce. “TechPATH collaborates with industry and education partners to showcase high tech careers that may not have existed a decade ago, but are now thriving and will continue to grow,” techPATH Director Jeff Bindell stated in a press release. Bindell is a lecturer in physics at the University of Central Florida.


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