Pioneering transplant operation carried out by robot
BRITISH surgeons have completed the first live transplant operation using a robot, it emerged yesterday.
The 1million machine at Guy’s Hospital in London, one of two in the UK, plucked a kidney from Pauline Payne’s body using two mechanical arms. Conventional surgery was then employed to implant the carefully preserved kidney into her seriously ill partner, Raymond Jackson.
The robot, named da Vinci by its manufacturer, has been used before in Britain to remove diseased organs and carry out simple reconstructive surgery. But this is the first time anything as critical and difficult as a live organ transplant has been attempted with the machine in the UK.
Two pencil-thin robot arms were inserted through 8mm holes in Ms Payne’s body. Their delicate "hands", wielding fine surgical tools, snipped and sewed in obedient response to finger and wrist movements made by the operator sitting at a console a few feet away.
A third arm, passed through another hole, bore a miniature camera. Images were viewed in 3-D by the surgeon, peering into a pair of virtual-reality "binoculars", who controlled the position of the camera with foot pedals.
Ms Payne, 55, an accountant, and Mr Jackson, 59, a retired haulage manager, have been together for three years and have been engaged since Christmas.
Mr Jackson became ill two-and-a-half years ago and, without a new kidney, he faced the prospect of a lifetime on dialysis.
Ms Payne offered to donate one of hers and despite the high odds against a non-relation having the right tissue type, her kidneys were a match.
Speaking three months after the operation, she told how she returned to their home in Rochester, Kent, less than four days after the transplant.
A month later, she was back at work.
"I can’t believe that I had a three-hour operation on a Friday and I was out of bed on Saturday and went home Monday teatime," she said. "To see the change in Ray is quite amazing. He got to the point before when he was losing his appetite, had no energy, and was really going downhill."
Ms Payne volunteered to be a da Vinci guinea pig after reading about the robot. "I asked if it was an option, and they said yes," she explained.
"I just found the idea of using a robot to perform an operation exciting. The surgeons said they enjoyed using it, and I had absolute faith in what they said it could do. I was never frightened or apprehensive."
Da Vinci was developed in the United States, where there are up to 200 working robots, but only Guy’s and St Mary’s Hospital in London use them in Britain.
The operator’s finger movements are accurately communicated to the robot via loops of Velcro wrapped around the thumb and forefinger. Although the mechanical movements are slower than a human’s, the machine compensates for any tremor, so they are delivered with rock-steady precision.
Prokar Dasgupta, a consultant urologist at Guy’s, who led the surgical team, said: "It is a milestone, but we don’t know all the answers yet.
We have to do more of these operations."
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