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Surgeons love RoboDoc: Anonymous gift brings da Vinci system to hospital

POSTED: February 29, 2008 5:01 a.m.
For The Times/

An anonymous donor has given $1 million to purchase a da Vinci robotic surgical system, like this one, for Northeast Georgia Medical Center. The robotic system will be used in one of the new operating rooms in the North Patient Tower, which is under construction and scheduled to open early next year.

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Valentine’s Day brought an especially sweet surprise for some Gainesville doctors. The Medical Center Foundation announced last week that an anonymous donor had given $1 million to purchase a robotic surgical system for Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

The equipment, known as a da Vinci system, had been on many surgeons’ wish lists for years.

"When I trained in California, we were one of the first centers to use the da Vinci robot," said Dr. David Woo, a Gainesville urologist. "Since I came here in 2004, I’ve been waiting for us to get the robot in Gainesville. I’m very excited that it’s finally coming."

The robotic system will be used in one of the new operating rooms in the North Patient Tower, which is currently under construction on the hospital’s main campus and is scheduled to open in early 2009.

Woody Stewart, chairman of the Medical Center Foundation, said he could not disclose who donated the $1 million, but he said the person was inspired by the $4 million given by the parents of Ronnie Green six years ago, which helped start the hospital’s cardiac surgery program.

"The donor was impressed with what the gift for the Ronnie Green Heart Center had meant and how quickly that program had grown," Stewart said. "They felt this (equipment) would be icing on the cake, that it would complement what was already there."

The robot is expected to be used not only for heart procedures but also for urologic, gynecologic and cancer surgeries.

Hospital officials knew it was something doctors wanted, but they didn’t think they could pay for it out of the general operating budget. Stewart said they were waiting to present the idea to someone who stepped forward with a donation offer.

"When someone wants to make a donation, we show them a list of projects that we have prioritized," he said.

Stewart said when local physicians first started pushing for the da Vinci system, "it wasn’t mainstream. But now this technology has continued to validate itself, so the timing is perfect."

Also, Stewart says, the medical center is feeling some competitive pressure.

"Atlanta hospitals have started advertising about having robotic surgery," he said.

What’s the advantage of operating with a robot? Woo said it lets surgeons maneuver into tight spaces in the body where it’s difficult for human hands to reach.

Prostate cancer surgery is a perfect example, he said. Though many other types of surgeries are now done laparoscopically, with small instruments inserted through tiny incisions, surgery for prostate cancer often has to be an open procedure, with a major incision.

Open surgeries are tougher on patients, with a longer, more painful recovery period. Most surgeons prefer to use a laparoscope whenever they can.

"But doing prostate surgery with laparoscopy takes a bit of dexterity that your hands just don’t have," said Woo. "The robot allows fine motor manipulations. It also really helps in doing reconstructive surgery. After removing the prostate, you have to reattach the ‘plumbing,’ so to speak, and that can be delicate work."

Stewart said getting this technological innovation in Gainesville wouldn’t have been possible without a donor’s generosity.

"Philanthropy can fill the gap between what’s necessary to have a good hospital and a great hospital," he said.


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