Surgeons turn to robots for coronary angioplasties

For the first time, surgeons are turning to robots to help perform life-saving coronary angioplasties.

Arif Qureshi, 54, had no idea his heart health was in jeopardy. But after a stress test, doctors discovered one of his arteries was 90 percent blocked.

"To be honest, I was not feeling bad prior to that," Qureshi said. "[It was] personally a big surprise to me."

Dr. Augusto Pichard, the Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at Washington Hospital, said Qureshi was a likely candidate for a massive heart attack or sudden death without ever having had chest pain.

Qureshi decided to undergo surgery and is now one of the first patients in the country to have an angioplasty using the robot.

From a lead-shielded cockpit across the room, Pichard guided the catheter and stent into place by moving two joysticks. With the robot's help, he entirely cleared the blockage.

"It's so easy for me to manipulate the wire of the balloon," said Pichard. "It's more precise than my fingers."

In November, Cherry Adams, 58, was the first patient in D.C. to have the procedure. Her artery was 85 percent blocked. After surgery, it was completely open and she's feeling great.

"I have more energy," Adams said. "I don't have the aches and swelling in my legs and feet. I just feel more vitalized now."

She says it's a blessing her blockage was caught and cleared.

The clinical trial is looking into the safety and effectiveness of using the robot. It is also hoped the robot will reduce surgeon fatigue and exposure to radiation.

If the technique is successful and given FDA approval, it could potentially allow world-class surgeons to operate on a patient remotely from anywhere in the world.