LCRH's "Rosie the Robot" celebrates 1,000 surgeries

Sep. 21—The operating room staff at the Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital works like a well-oiled machine — literally and figuratively. On Tuesday, the hospital celebrated the completion of 1,000 robotic surgeries through their original robotic surgery machine, affectionately known as Rosie.

But as many are quick to point out, it takes more than just the surgeon operating the machine to keep the robot running smoothly.

As Dr. Joe Eid explained it: "The surgeon is definitely the captain of the ship in a lot of ways, but it's a team effort. Even with the robot — we can't do what we do without having the team at bedside, which is our OR technician, the first assistant, the circulating nurse. Those are very critical parts of this big, overall surgical machine that we are all a part of."

LCRH COO Rhee Perry added, "With robotic surgery, there's a lot of moving parts that require people who often go unseen or unnoticed. For example, our sterile processing team. That team is incredibly important, because they ensure that every single instrument, every single package is 100% sterile, so there's no chance a patient will get an infection from surgery. We take that very seriously here."

And Melissa Smith, director of surgical services, added her thanks to the nursing staff, calling nurses the "glue" to the whole procedure. They interview the patient, make sure they understand what is happening along the process, relay any changes to their status to the surgeon, and keep an eye on anything that might delay the procedure or cause it to need to be moved up.

Perry then added his thanks to the surgical technologists and anesthesiologists, calling them "instrumental."

But the star of Tuesday's shindig to celebrate the hospital's milestone was Rosie herself, a Da Vinci robotic surgery assistant that started work in September 2020. That's more than 1,000 surgeries in two years.

The celebration "is a big milestone for that one system," Perry said. "This is a testament to the hard work of our personnel in the OR, their dedication to our community and our patients that they're able to pull this off. We're looking forward to the next 1,000."

Surgeon Ben Stivers, who is also a Da Vinci proctor who mentors other hospital teams to use the technology, explained that the robot is only a tool which the flesh-and-blood surgeon uses to make that surgery better.

"We control every aspect of it," he said. "The goal is to get a better visualization, and we can have better instrumentation than we can laparoscopically. And, instead of having to rely on assistants to hold or retract a camera, the robot does that. It makes it a more stable platform for the surgeons."

Rosie in particular performs general surgeries, gynecological surgeries and gastric and weight loss surgeries.

That means items like gall bladder removal, hysterectomies, gastric sleeve and gastric bypass surgeries can be done using precise movements.

"With the robotic approach, it's still controlled by the surgeon, but it minimizes bleeding, it reduces pain, and it improves the recovery period so patients heal faster," Perry said.

Many patients get to go home that same day, rather than remain in the hospital for the usual 23-hour observation, Smith added.

"Patients just do better when they're home. They do better if they're in their own environment," she said.

Stivers said robotic-aided surgery means a quicker recovery, a quicker back-to-work time and fewer pain medications and narcotics required — important in this day and age when communities are dealing with narcotics epidemics.

"We've probably cut in half how much pain medicine we've written, or more," Stivers said.

Both Stivers and Eid also point out that there is a benefit to the surgeon as well. The robot eases some of the strain on the surgeon's back and shoulders, and allows them to sit rather than stand throughout a surgery.

"It's a more surgeon-friendly platform," Said Eid. "Their arms and shoulders and their bodies — it preserves surgeon longevity."

That means a surgeon can potentially have a much longer career, Stivers said.

Still, it's not a total replacement for traditional surgery, and surgeons using robots must first thoroughly understand how to operate on a patient normally.

"Has it revolutionized surgery? In a way, yes, but really this is an adaptation of laparoscopic skill to a different platform," Stivers said.

LCRH CEO Robert Parker was on hand at the celebration, calling the milestone "incredible" and praising the capable staff who were behind it.

And Chief Nursing Officer Tanya Nelson-Hackney offered her congratulations as well, saying, "Today is really an exciting day for our hospital."

She noted that seeing the success of the robotics program and how it helps patients recover more quickly aids in the overall standard of care seen at the hospital.

"This is a great team to make that happen, they do a great job," she said.

Carla Slavey can be reached at