Robot Power
The arms on the surgical robot are capable of movements similar to the human wrist, giving the surgeon more dexterity.

It seems like a movie plot: Robot saves boy.

In the case of three-year-old Ellion Reval from Dulce, New Mexico, a meeting with a robot was not a movie, it was real life.

Ellion needed a robot's help, but not to fight bad guys or find his way back home. He needed the robot to help him with one of his kidneys.

Ellion was born with a condition called vesicoureteral reflux. Urine normally travels from each kidney to the bladder via the ureter, the muscular duct that propels the urine, but in Ellion's case, the direction of the urine flow was reversed, causing infections and a non-functioning kidney.

At the University of New Mexico Children's Hospital, Ellion's family discussed surgery options with Dr. Jason Wilson, associate professor in the UNM Department of Surgery and section chief of Pediatric Urology.

"In a situation like Ellion's, when the kidney is non-functional and it's high-grade reflux, the most prudent thing to do for the child's overall, long-term health is to remove the whole system," said Wilson.

Wilson suggested using the Da Vinci System, UNM's robotic surgery technology that offers advantages over open surgery and traditional laparoscopic surgery.

"When we remove the ureter down close to the bladder, we often have to reconstruct an area or sew up an area, and that can be quite challenging in laparoscopic surgery," said Wilson. "That's where the Da Vinci System really improves our ability to deliver good surgical technique."

The robot has been used at UNM mostly on adult patients for procedures in urology, and obstetrics and gynecology, but Wilson was confident that the robot could be used for pediatric surgeries, too.

Benefits of Robotic Surgery

In contrast to traditional laparoscopic surgery, the arms on the surgical robot are capable of movements similar to the human wrist, giving the surgeon more dexterity. This capability, said Wilson, is very helpful when performing on smaller pediatric patients.

The robot is also equipped with advanced instruments and a miniature camera that provides a high-definition, three-dimensional view inside the body. The surgery delivers precision that is not possible in conventional laparoscopic surgery.

"The surgical robot allowed us to get the whole system out like we would with open surgery, but it gave us the benefit of laparoscopic surgery with small incisions and a fast recovery," said Wilson.

Ellion was able to go home from the hospital in less than 24 hours after his surgery. Conventional surgery is usually associated with a hospital stay of at least 3 to 4 days.

Robot Gets a Name

Pediatric patients at the University of New Mexico Children's Hospital were given an opportunity to come up with creative names for the surgical robot. The winning name was Smarty.

more information on UNM's surgical robot