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Detroit Catholic Central High School observe daVinci® robotic surgery at St. Mary Mercy Hospital
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Tying a knot may sound like a simple task, but it becomes a tremendous skill set when using robotic arms inside a person.

That’s what a group of 62 Detroit Catholic Central High School students saw in a live broadcast of a robotic surgery at St. Mary Mercy Hospital in Livonia. Sitting at a console in the operating room, Paul Makela, MD, medical director of Gynecological Robotic Surgery, St. Mary Mercy Hospital, remotely controlled the robotic arms of a daVinci® Surgical System to perform a hysterectomy, the surgical removal of a woman’s uterus.

“I don’t know how he was able to look into a monitor and do all the intricate motions and knot-tying,” said Zach Huber, 15, a Detroit Catholic Central freshman from Brighton Township. “It was amazing that a machine could do all the same motions a human being can do.”

The broadcast was part a visit from freshmen and sophomore Honors Biology students for Detroit Catholic Central’s Healthcare Career Day on Tuesday, January 15. Students also tried their skills in hands-on surgical demonstrations, including using the daVinci® Surgical System, and heard from Catholic Central alumni working at St. Mary Mercy Hospital.

“I hope they take away an appreciation of medicine and the appreciation of hard work that people have to do to get to the place where they are,” said Central Catholic science teacher Mark Gagnon. The visit was the first time any of Gagnon’s classes watched a live surgery broadcast.

St. Mary Mercy Hospital President and CEO Dave Spivey welcomed the students to the campus and described the various career opportunities in the healthcare field.

“Pursue something you have passion for,” he said. “If you follow your passion, you are more right than wrong.”
Dr. Makela followed with a presentation on the evolution of surgery: procedures that were commonly performed by hand are now minimally invasive thanks to medical technology, he said. He is one of a select group of surgeons who have special training using the daVinci® Surgical System, a sophisticated robotic platform designed to enable surgeons to perform minimally invasive procedures. Dr. Makela’s son, Sam, 14, is a student at Central Catholic High School and visited the hospital with his Honors Biology class.

After the presentation, Dr. Makela went to the operating room to perform the surgery. Catholic Central graduate Michael Gatt, MD, Obstetrics and Gynecology, St. Mary Mercy Hospital, fielded questions about robotic surgery during the nearly two hour live broadcast.

After the broadcast, Chief Operating Officer Bud Lauderbach, Nursing Director Steve Thibault, and Operations Projects Manager Bill Makela (not related to Dr. Makela), spoke to the students about career paths in healthcare. Thibault and Bill Makela are also alumni from Catholic Central.

Alex Szpytman, 14, a Catholic Central freshman from Novi, said he has an interest in becoming a pediatrician, but hearing from the speakers opened his eyes to other healthcare career paths. “You can use nursing to start a career and combine it with any other degree,” he said.

The students participated in a variety of surgical simulations, including laparoscopic surgery, orthopedic bone drilling, and the daVinci robotic operating system.

“To have this opportunity as freshmen and sophomores in high school is absolutely phenomenal,” said Dave Lewis, Catholic Central vice principal and academic director. Seeing the various careers in healthcare “gives them the opportunity to see if the medical field is a path they want to follow in life.”