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Robot performs woman’s gall bladder operation

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RICHMOND, Va. — A woman had her gall bladder removed by a robot Wednesday, one day after the da Vinci Surgical System was approved by federal regulators.

The da Vinci, approved for use at five U.S. hospitals on Tuesday by the Food and Drug Administration, enables surgeons to operate by manipulating joysticks at a computer terminal. Lenses inserted in the patient's body give the surgeon a 3-D view of the person's insides.

Dr. William E. Kelley Jr. performed the gall bladder surgery Wednesday on 35-year-old Kimberly Briggs at Henrico Doctors Hospital.

"I was very pleased. I think it went very smoothly," said Kelley, who had been trained on the da Vinci but had used it to operate only on pigs and cadavers before.

Also pleased was Briggs, who was wheeled into a news conference less than four hours after her surgery was over.

"I feel great," she said, adding that the less invasive procedure would allow her to be home in time for her son Mario's sixth birthday party on Thursday.

Surgery using the da Vinci has been approved only for abdominal operations in the United States, but the $1 million robot is being more widely used in Europe, Kelley said. FDA approval for da Vinci on cardiac surgery could come this year, Katz said.

A few hospitals are conducting clinical trials of robot-assisted heart surgery.

With wrist-like devices at the end of the robotic arms giving surgeons a full range of precise movement, the da Vinci is a significant advance on laparoscopic surgery, a decade-old breakthrough that already had made much surgery less invasive.

Dr. Marc Katz, a cardiac surgeon, said using a computer screen to view the area magnified by 10 times and having a robot do the work with precision is "incredibly exciting."

"It gives you the ability to get your instruments where they need to be," said Katz, who is trained to use da Vinci.

Over time, he said, da Vinci could make operations involving large incisions virtually obsolete, allowing patients instead to cover their incisions with "a few Band-Aids."

Five hospitals are trained to use the da Vinci now: Henrico Doctors Hospital in Richmond; Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas; Ohio State University in Columbus; East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.; and the San Ramon Medical Center in California.

On the Net: www.intusurg.com