With her face pressed tight to the console in front of her, Ryanne Denning used only the slightest movements of her hands and feet to move the arms of a multi-million dollar robot.
She wielded tiny tools — only millimeters wide — pinching and cutting and cauterizing the red tissue and yellowish fat of a heart. Step by step, an expert guided her through the process of operating on an organ with a da Vinci surgical robot, her every movement magnified on a large screen, for other students to see.
“You’re seeing a beating heart, and they’re like ‘don’t pop it,'” Denning said after her turn with the robot was through. “It’s like ‘oh wow, this is real stuff.'”
Denning, a senior at Boise High School, was one of about 150 high school and college students in medical programs who were offered a chance to use the da Vinci at a robotics in surgery seminar hosted at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, Wednesday.
They didn’t operate on live organs, of course. Machine experts and hospital surgeons walked the students through mock-surgery on a pig heart, filled with fake blood and rigged to simulate the pumping of a real heart.
“It’s a really great opportunity to be able to actually use (the machine) on an actual pig heart,” Frank Church High School senior Naomi Valla said. “Most of the time you just get to watch these things happen before you’re actually in the field.”
Saint Alphonsus physicians explained to the Boise area students how they use the da Vinci for surgery on the esophagus, lungs, colon and more. The robotic procedure helps minimize recovery time and creates less pain and scarring than more invasive surgical techniques.
The goal of the robotics event was to acquaint students with the advanced surgical technology and hopefully inspire them to pursue careers in healthcare or other STEM fields, said Dr. Christopher Reising.
“When I’m old and crusty I’m going to need someone to operate on me,” Reising told a group of students who had just arrived to see the robot.
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