Seattle Children’s Robotics Program Celebrates Five Years of Life-Changing Procedures

Five-year milestone marked with Blinky the Surgeonator’s surprise birthday party; Seattle Children’s robotic surgical specialists have collective career experience performing over 400 pediatric robot-assisted surgeries including 12 world’s first procedures

Today, Seattle Children’s celebrated the fifth anniversary of its pediatric robotics program. Since its inception in 2006, Children’s has grown to become recognized as a worldwide leader in pediatric robotic surgery and research. At the centerpiece of its program, are two components that set it apart from the rest: 1) several of the industry’s top ranking surgeons and nurses, and 2) the latest da Vinci robot surgical system, the da Vinci Si HD, which helps the team perform robot-assisted (RA) laparoscopy, a type of minimally invasive surgery.

The team of robotic surgical specialists led by Dr. John Meehan, pediatric general surgeon, and pediatric urologist Dr. Thomas Lendvay, have completed over 200 robotic procedures at Children’s, more RA surgeries for children than any other team in the region. The surgical team’s collective career experience – both at Children’s and at other institutions – includes:

  • Over 400 pediatric urology and general surgery RA procedures with the da Vinci robot
  • 12 world’s first pediatric RA procedures
  • RA surgeries successfully completed with the world’s smallest patient to ever have RA surgery, as well as the world’s youngest to have a RA procedure

Earlier this year, Children’s successfully completed a single incision pediatric gall bladder removal surgery with the da Vinci robot – a world’s first in pediatrics. Typically, laparoscopic gall bladder surgery requires four incisions. Single incision procedures can be challenging using traditional laparoscopic procedures because backwards movement of the wrist is sometimes needed. The da Vinci robot’s arms can move in more ways than a human wrist can, making single incision procedures easier to perform. With the single incision hidden in the belly button, the incision is also virtually invisible. The da Vinci robot may open up greater options for single incision laparoscopic surgeries in the future.

The robotic team has performed several other life-changing procedures including the removal of a young teen’s lung tumor, a repair to a baby’s blocked kidneys, several pelvis and bile duct reconstructions, and fixes to reflux conditions in the bladder and esophagus.

The five year milestone was celebrated with a surprise birthday party for the hospital’s da Vinci robot, thrown by the other devices in the operating room. The robot, recently named Blinky the Surgeonator by Children’s patients, received gifts of WD-40 and a silver-plated robot cake at the party:

Hi-resolution pictures of the celebration are here:

Translating Robotic Innovation into Better Patient Care

Surgeries performed at Children’s with the da Vinci robot provide all the benefits that conventional laparoscopic surgery has over open surgery – smaller incisions, minimal scarring, and less operative dehydration and blood loss. But, the da Vinci robot can often help bring the range of benefits to the next level with the ability to perform highly complex reconstructive procedures with less pain after surgery, faster recovery times, and a quicker return to normal activities.

The Children’s robotic team feels that the robot’s possibilities have barely been tapped. “The da Vinci robot brings many unique features to the table that make the possibility for expanding Children’s robotic surgery services virtually boundless,” said Dr. Meehan. For example, its 3D HD visualization provides 10X magnification, which is especially helpful with patients who are very tiny. This allows the surgeon to make very precise, complex motions that aren’t possible without the robot.

Leading the Next Wave of Robotic-Assisted Surgery

The Children’s robotic team is very active in research being done to make RA surgery better. Dr. Lendvay is studying the effectiveness of a virtual reality RA surgery simulator for teaching robotic surgery and for use as a “warm-up” device prior to surgery. Today, training involves access to the actual robot, which is generally busy during working hours. The simulator allows surgeons to train anytime. In a randomized study funded by the United States Department of Defense, Dr. Lendvay is evaluating whether surgeons who spend ten minutes warming up on the simulator see a boost in surgical performance. “Surgery is a highly cognitive and physical activity,” says Dr. Lendvay. “Dancers, musicians, and athletes all warm up before they perform—why not surgeons?”

Children’s is 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 CT (computed tomography) scan on the console’s TV screen during surgery or adding sensors to the robotic arms to tell how hard they grasp.

Children’s believes RA surgery will grow in applications, and has the potential to open up the option for minimally invasive surgery to patients who may not currently be considered good candidates for other laparoscopic procedures. One day, even open surgeries may be done with robotic assistance because of the valuable information that can be presented to the surgeon to improve patient care.

“As robots become smaller, cheaper and more portable, they will replace some of the older methods of surgery to deliver more precision, less pain, and better cosmesis. We believe in RA technology, and it’s here to stay,” said Dr. Meehan.

More on Children’s RA surgery can be found at:

About Seattle Children’s

Seattle Children’s Hospital, Foundation and Research Institute together deliver superior patient care, advance new discoveries and treatments through pediatric research, and raise funds to create better futures for patients. Consistently ranked as one of the top 10 children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Seattle Children’s Hospital specializes in meeting the unique physical, emotional and developmental needs of children from infancy through young adulthood. Through the collaboration of physicians in nearly 60 pediatric subspecialties, Seattle Children’s Hospital provides inpatient, outpatient, diagnostic, surgical, rehabilitative, behavioral, and emergency and outreach services to families from around the world.

Located in downtown Seattle’s biotech corridor, Seattle Children’s Research Institute is pushing the boundaries of medical research to find cures for pediatric diseases and improve outcomes for children all over the world. Internationally recognized investigators and staff at the research institute are advancing new discoveries in cancer, genetics, immunology, pathology, infectious disease, injury prevention, bioethics and much more.

Seattle Children’s Hospital and Research Foundation and Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild Association work together to gather community support and raise funds for uncompensated care, clinical care and research. The foundation receives nearly 80,000 gifts each year, from lemonade stand proceeds to corporate sponsorships. Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild Association is the largest all-volunteer fundraising network for any hospital in the country, serving as the umbrella organization for 450 groups of people who turn an activity they love into a fundraiser. Support from the foundation and guild association makes it possible for Seattle Children’s care and research teams to improve the health and well-being of all kids.

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