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The robo-doc is in

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Mario Leyba, general surgeon at Lovelace Hospital, is seen with the new Da Vinci Xi surgical robot. (ADOLPHE PIERRE-LOUIS/JOURNAL)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The robot will see you now.

Patients at Lovelace Women’s Hospital now have the option of having more procedures done robotically, which can mean less pain, minimal scarring and faster recovery for surgeries that previously could be done only conventionally. This is thanks to the recent addition of the da Vinci Xi Surgical System, a device used primarily for gynecologic oncology, urologic and general surgeries.

Lovelace Health System recently acquired the new robotics system to use in minimally invasive surgeries. The da Vinci Xi represented an overall investment of $2.4 million, including the machinery itself as well as supporting infrastructure.

Lovelace is one of three hospital systems in the state with a da Vinci X1, according to Dr. Mario Leyba, a general and robotic surgeon who practices at Lovelace Women’s hospital in northeast Albuquerque.

Minimally invasive surgery is typically laproscopic, meaning surgeons access a patient’s affected area using handheld tools. Robotic surgery involves grasping tools using a video game-like console and operating from afar based on a 3D video feed. The robotic procedure doesn’t require fewer operating personnel, and surgeons are still performing the entire operation. A robotic console sends signals, via hand controls, to mechanical arms with surgical instruments attached to them. The arms are operated by the surgeon.

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Leyba already has performed nearly 1,000 surgeries using the earlier-version da Vinci Si, a workhorse device to be sure, but the robotics-assisted technology field continues to evolve. “It’s like having the latest iteration of the iPhone versus the iPhone 3,” Leyba said, referring to the capabilities of both systems already used in specialized operations.

“We’ve known for 10 years now that robotics allows smaller incisions, and that translates into faster recovery and shorter hospital stays. Our team of specially trained surgeons has pinpoint accuracy, dexterity and control, which means less tissue damage and less pain,” said Leyba, who uses the devices as training tools for medical students.

From a personal standpoint, Leyba says he prefers robotic surgery because sitting in a chair, as an operating surgeon does during digital manipulation, is far less physically taxing than standing over a patient for hours.

Not only is lessening the length of  hospital stays for patients at the forefront of robotics-assisted medicine, but it may also help lengthen the career for surgeons, and mitigate occupational hazards.

“I’ve met surgeons who worked for 20 to  30 years bending over patients to complete procedures,” said Leyba. “Many have (chronic) neck and shoulder pain.”

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