Robots performing surgery seems like something out of a science fiction movie, but it is already in practice at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center. Thirty-eight Fort Hood students and parents were given the opportunity to witness firsthand what it is like to see the surgical robot in action.

The da Vinci is a surgical system in which a human directs the motion, while a robot performs the surgery. Because the surgical system uses small robotic instruments, it allows surgeries to be minimally invasive and thus, shortens recovery time. With microscopic cameras mounted on the arms of the machine, the surgeon can see more than a normal human eye can detect during normal surgery.

Liz Davenport, Fort Hood Child & Youth Services School Liaison Officer, said the tour consisted of some of the installation’s homeschooled students and parents. The CYS tries to schedule field trips for its homeschooled students every two months. They wanted to give the students an opportunity to experience something unique right at Fort Hood. Once in the surgical department, all the participants suited up like a doctor to remain sterile and anxiously awaited their turn.

“The CYS SLO office has been working hard to provide a plethora of resources and wanted to provide them outside of the norm educational experiences,” Davenport said.

Once inside the operating room, Allison Hennis, a surgical technologist with CRDAMC, began explaining the different parts of da Vinci and show how the robot’s multiple arms can be used, before placing a package of Starburst on the operating table and allowing Dr. Douglas Stoddard, the chief of general surgery and chairman of the Robotics Surgery Program, to operate the da Vinci.

“I never thought we’d be able to walk to the back of an OR and see what they use,” Nathalia Howard, a parent and chaperone said of the experience. “I’ve never seen a machine as sophisticated as this before. It is absolutely amazing.”

Using a highly magnified, 3D high-definition view of the surgical area, Stoddard sliced open the package of Starburst candies, then proceeded to open each individual piece of candy with the da Vinci. Using the “hand” of the da Vinci, Stoddard handed the candy to the children watching in awe and admiration. While it seems like the robot is performing the surgery, it is really the skills of the surgeon operating the machine that makes the magic.

Stoddard showed the students how to operate da Vinci, allowing them to place their fingers in the controls while looking through the 3D viewer. The surgeon’s hand movements inside the da Vinci console are translated over to the multiple instruments on the operating table.

Sixth-grader Bella Larson, who had the opportunity to look through the 3D viewer, said it was like looking through goggles at the operating table.

“It was cool that he used his fingers to control the robot by seeing in 3D,” Larson added. “It was like he was doing it with his own hands, but he wasn’t.”

After cutting open the Starburst, Stoddard then performed surgery on a teddy bear that had its stomach sliced open. The multitude of “arms” on the da Vinci made the operation look simple, with one “hand” holding the stuffing in place, while others stitched up the busted bear.

“It was crazy because they (the hands on the robots) were so delicate,” Larson said, before revealing that the da Vinci unwraps Starburst faster than she does.

Davenport said the CYS provided the homeschoolers on Fort Hood this experience to round out the homeschool curriculum and to give the students exposure to possible career paths for their futures. She said this field trip was a huge success and enjoyed by parents and student alike.

“They truly enjoyed this opportunity and was so thankful of the collaboration between the CYS SLO office and CRDAMC’s Da Vinci department to facilitate this for them,” she said. “They learned a new career field and how technology is currently being developed in the medical field to better take care of our Soldiers and families.”