Brookings Hospital is smallest in state with surgery robots

Serena Davis, Assistant Lifestyles Editor (She/Her)

Brookings Health Systems is staying up to date on the newest medical technology available. 

In 2013, Brookings got two surgical robots to help nurses and doctors during operations. The hospital uses the Mako robotic-arm for orthopedic surgeries, and the da Vinci Xi, which got a recent update in 2021, for general surgeries, operating nurse Ally Leona said. 

Only four hospitals in South Dakota have this technology, including locations in Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Aberdeen and Brookings, with Brookings being the smallest hospital to have the surgical robots. 

Leona said the da Vinci Xi robot has three parts that all work together: the surgeon council, patient cart and the vision cart.  

The surgeon council is a separate station in the operating room where the surgeon sits and uses hand controls to control the robot’s movements. They also have an eyepiece, so they can see what part of the body they are working on.

The patient cart is where the instruments get installed and where the surgeon controls the robot during a surgery. This is also where the bed sits, which is integrated with the robot and allows the surgeons to move it where they need to.

 The vision cart, where all the instrumentation gets plugged in, uses electricity for surgery. 

 Cassy Schnider, another operating nurse, said the da Vinci has a touchscreen that they can zoom in on and write on in case the surgeon needs it. The device is also able to capture pictures and videos during surgery. 

 Since upgrading in October 2021, Brookings Health Systems has completed 179 surgeries with the newer robot.

 “The robot offered the option to get a fourth arm while the old one only had three,” Leona said. “With the extra arm we are able to complete more procedures.”

 Schnider said that with the upgrade, they are also able to take advantage of “Firefly” technology. Firefly is when a patient gets an IV medication before surgery and that glows in the inflicted areas so surgeons can be more precise when making incisions and removing anatomy. 

Mako is used only for orthopedic surgery and mostly joint replacements. Patients must undergo a CT scan that is sent to the medical technology company, Stryker, Leona said.  

“Stryker makes a plan specific to the patient where they find which part of the bone is diseased and what part of the bone is good,” she said. “With this we can get the most precise fit and size of implant that we are going to put in during the procedure.” 

 Because Stryker makes the Mako robot and the plan for the patient, the robot can safeguard how much bone is being taken off, Schnider said. Once the patient is in surgery, the machine can link the plan and the patient together and once it reaches an anatomical point where no more bone needs to be taken off, the machine will stop and turn off.

 The biggest appeal for patients is the shorter recovery time and less pain when they wake up, Leona and Schnider  said. The robot can make smaller incisions which offers less risk of infection and less blood loss during the surgery. 

 Leona and Schnider said that this is what most of the surgeons in medical school are training on right now, so by keeping up with the technology, they can attract surgeons and technicians to Brookings. 

 When Brookings Health Systems got the da Vinci Xi ,the staff underwent training where a representative from the da Vinci team came for a week to make sure everyone was trained on the new system. The staff had to complete training modules to show their understanding of the technology. 

 Any new staff members coming in also have to complete the training models before they’re allowed in the operating room with the robot, Schnider said. If the robot updates or if the hospital upgrades instrumentation, everyone will complete new training modules.

 Julia Yoder, the marketing and public relations director for the Brookings Health Systems, also said that this technology is beneficial for nursing students coming out of their programs.

“For those looking for a job somewhere, the fact that we can say that we have this capability provides that unique experience,” Yoder said.

Yoder said that providing better recovery options and high standards of care is what keeps patients coming back.