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Plano Boy Scouts earn robotics badge
Kelsey Kruzich/Staff Photo - Jack Myer observes how the robot moves.
By Ian Floyd, Staff Writer
PLANO -- As technology has advanced throughout the years, once-dangerous medical procedures have become increasingly simplified. Displaying the next step in medical improvement is the daVinci minimally invasive surgical robot.
On Thursday, Thomas Heffernan, a gynecological oncologist and surgeon at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Plano, demonstrated this new machine to a group of Boy Scouts, allowing them to earn their Robotics merit badge.
"It is a first for me to have young people in the room," Heffernan said. "I have trained a lot of other surgeons on the device, but it is really cool to have young people in here. It is being able to touch it, move it and actually see it work that really brings it home better than anything. To be able to come into the operating room and see this device in action speaks volumes."
The Scouts were first clothed with traditional surgical garb and then taught how to properly wash and scrub their hands and forearms, a regular practice for doctors prior to surgery. They were taught the basics of how to use the robot, and then one by one each was given control and allowed to practice picking up small objects and moving them around.
"This is really neat to see how quickly they got on it," Heffernan said. "I think it speaks well for this generation coming up behind us and for the people who are going to be taking care of me one day. I think it speaks about the device itself and how well put-together it is."
Despite the complex myriad of levers, pulleys and computer engineering that have married themselves together to produce this nearly $2 million machine, Plano Boy Scout Jack Myer, 11, was surprised with the simplicity of controlling the machine.
"It takes a lot less effort [than I thought]," Myer said. "It has just been really cool to see how doctors use robots. I never thought they actually have little pinchers to do their work."
While other Boy Scouts have gone to visit NASA to earn their Robotics merit badge in the past, Myer is feeling the ever-growing sphere of technological advancements expand beyond government agencies with massive budgets and into everyday life.
"I never thought there would be anything to earn the badge this local," Myer said. "We drive by this hospital every day. I always thought it would be a couple of hours away."
The device is the next evolutionary step from laparoscopic surgery, according to Heffernan. It has revolutionized procedures -- such as radical hysterectomy -- that used to result in massive blood loss. With the robotic surgeries, patients suffer far less loss of blood and bodily function, and recovery times are greatly reduced.
"The daVinci robot essentially takes the mechanical motions of the surgeon's hands outside the patient and translates them exactly to tiny, delicate instruments inside the patient," Heffernan said. "That allows us to do very elaborate and delicate surgeries through small incisions."
As technology expands, the way new surgical students will be taught will change until the old-fashioned way of surgery -- a surgeon cutting into the patient -- becomes obsolete.
"This is a generation of youngsters that are going to grow up learning this technique or application of surgery from the beginning, whereas our generation is learning it just now," Heffernan said. "It is going to be from the beginning, the way they are taught surgery. It is pretty revolutionary."