It's not every day that 11-year-olds get to perform surgery.
Or rather, perform surgical simulations with state-of-the-art equipment.
But Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach opened its doors last week to nine south
Orange County preteens who had won awards at the VEX World Championships
in Louisville, Ky., in April.
The students were part of two teams that represented John Malcom Elementary
School in Laguna Niguel during the robotics tournament, where thousands
of students from as far away as China and New Zealand brought robots they
had created to perform tasks such as scooping up balls and launching them
into a net.
Having graduated from elementary school, the students from the John Malcom
teams are now dispersed among three middle schools.
But nine members of the two teams decided to form one group to compete
at the Robotics Team Competition on Dec. 10 in San Diego, where they will
build another robot and give a research presentation on robot-assisted surgery.
To aid their research, Dennis Chernekoff, a parent of two students on the
team, got in touch with an old friend from high school, Tom Lonergan,
executive director of the Jeffrey M. Carlton Heart & Vascular Institute
at Hoag Hospital.
"We're getting a lot of information so when we're asked questions
[at the competition] we can say that we have the experience" with
the technology, team member Alexa Chernekoff said during her trip to Hoag.
The students geared up in white surgical suits and hair coverings as Hoag
surgeons took them into a room where they could get their hands on the
Da Vinci Xi Surgical System — robotic technology that can translate
a surgeon's hand movements into smaller and more precise maneuvers.
The 11-year-olds took turns inserting the robot's long, slim claws
into small openings on a plastic pod. Hoag surgeons turned on a monitor
where the students could see a tiny twisted bar within the pod.
The surgeons then presented the youngsters with a challenge — use
the robot's console to operate the claws and move small rubber bands
through the twists and turns of the bar.
The students smiled and fixed their eyes on the monitor as they watched
their teammates take turns gliding the bands inside the pod.
"We've done some research, but it's not as interesting as
the experience of physically doing something," said team member Agatha Ford.
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Daily Pilot article