What is robot-assisted surgery?

In robot-assisted surgery, the surgeon sits at a console a few feet away from your child and looks at a TV screen through lenses that are like binoculars. Using hand and foot pedals, the surgeon controls three robotic arms. One arm holds a small tool that has a light and a camera. The camera sends pictures to the TV screen. The other two arms hold tiny surgical tools at their tips. The surgeon inserts the tools through small cuts ("keyhole" incisions) in your child's chest, belly or pelvis to do your child's surgery.

The robotic arms can move in more ways than a human wrist moves. They allow the surgeon to make very precise, complex motions that aren't possible without the robot. With the robot's help, we can offer more types of surgeries for more children who need them - even children who are very small.

Robot-assisted surgery is a type of minimally invasive procedure or laparoscopic surgery. As with other types of minimally invasive surgery, your child will have smaller scars than with open surgery, which uses a longer incision. Your child is likely to heal faster with less pain and go home from the hospital sooner, too.

What's special about robot-assisted surgery at Seattle Children's?

Seattle Children's has a world-class robotics program. We have been using a da Vinci robot, nicknamed Blinky the Surgeonator, to help with surgery since Spring 2006. Our surgeons have done more robot-assisted surgeries for children than any other surgeons in the region. Because of our expertise, we can use the robot for a wide range of surgeries - more than 40 types - and with young children as well as teens.

At most hospitals, the youngest children have the fewest surgery options. Their small size makes conventional laparoscopic surgery difficult. To get to the right tissues and move their tools well, most surgeons have to do open surgeries on small patients. At Seattle Children's, our expert surgeons can use the robot with some of these children, so we can offer minimally invasive surgery to more families.

Our robotics team leads the way in improving robot-assisted surgery. We take part in research to study the results of this technique in children. We are also helping to develop a mobile surgery robot, called Raven. Raven 2.0 has four arms so two surgeons can work together. Many more advances are expected in the coming years, like being able to see your child's computed tomography (CT) scan on the console's TV screen during surgery or adding sensors to the robotic arms to tell how hard they grasp. One day, even open surgeries may be done with robot assistance because it's so helpful. Seattle Children's will be at the leading edge.

Who needs robot-assisted surgery?

Robot-assisted surgery can be used for some surgeries in the chest, belly or pelvis. For example, Seattle Children's surgeons have used the robot to remove lung tumors and gall bladders, to fix intestinal or liver problems, to repair blocked kidneys and to stop backflow of urine into the kidneys. The surgeons who use the robot are in our General Surgery and Urology departments. If your child needs surgery, the surgeon will consider all possible methods and will recommend the method that's best for your child's needs.