The room housing the new da Vinci robot at St. Vincent Healthcare is now labeled “R.A.L.P.H.’s Room.”
R.A.L.P.H., which stands for Robotic Automated Lifecare Performing in Hospital, is the winning name entry submitted by a third-grade class at Rose Park Elementary in Billings.
The students’ submission was one of 120 entries to the “Name Our Robot” contest, which recently challenged area elementary school classes to dream up a creative moniker for the hospital’s latest medical equipment.
The surgery staff from the hospital viewed and voted for the winning name and announced its pick — R.A.L.P.H. — last week.
“We found out on Thursday,” said Jo Korb, the teacher of the 21 third-grade winners. “There was lots of yelling and screaming.
“I knew my class would do great. Winning this was really important to them. Their creativity took over,” she added.
Tuesday, the class was treated to a trip to St. Vincent Healthcare to meet R.A.L.P.H. and get a hands-on experience with the $1.7 million robot.
The kids also received a prize of $200 from the hospital’s robotics surgical team.
Prizes of $50 also went to most creative and funniest drawing; both were won by Alkali Creek student Aliya Morrow in Kayla Sanchez’s third-grade class. Fifth-grader Jordyn Armstrong won for most creative paragraph. Her Central Heights class, taught by Deanna O’Neil, received $50.
When the third-graders were asked what they would use the money for, they collectively replied, “Books!” Of course, there were a few murmurs of “pizza party,” too.
Karsen Binstock, one of the students, said R.A.L.P.H. wasn’t quite what he expected.
“It wasn’t like I thought it would be like,” Binstock said. “I thought it would be walking around the room.”
R.A.L.P.H. may not be especially mobile, but it is capable of some other amazing feats.
The da Vinci system is not a robot controlling surgeries, but rather equipment the surgeon directs instead of using his actual hands.
Seated at a separate console, the surgeon looks at a magnified, high-resolution 3-D image of the surgical site. Meanwhile, his hands direct the movements of R.A.L.P.H.’s tiny clamps working inside the patient. The clamps, less than a centimeter long, are able to perform complex tasks in smaller spaces than human hands.
The surgeon’s assistants stand in front of a computer monitor near the patient, scanning for additional problems or abnormalities during surgery.
Procedures done with the da Vinci system have benefits that both traditional and laproscopic surgeries don’t, said Bobbi Jo Drozd, a registered nurse and operating department manager at the hospital recently.
Traditional operations typically require fairly large incisions, and even laproscopic procedures tend to be more limited, she said.
“Laproscopic surgery is minimally invasive, but the surgeon is still going in basically using straight sticks,” Drozd said. “In the robotic surgery, the arms are articulated. The movement and magnification are much greater.”
St. Vincent Healthcare’s purchase of R.A.L.P.H. was donated through the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation. It is the fifth system in Montana after Missoula, Kalispell and Great Falls. Billings Clinic received its system in January.
Hospital surgeons started using R.A.L.P.H. last week for urology procedures, and will eventually use the equipment for gynecological surgeries this summer. Eventually, the da Vinci will be used for various general surgeries and cardiac surgeries.
Dr. David Chavez, a pediatric urology surgeon with St. Vincent Healthcare, will get his turn with R.A.L.P.H. next month.
“We’ve got two adult urology cases under our belts so far, and we will hopefully doing kids by mid-June,” Chavez said. “There are kids waiting to get surgeries done.”
So far, St. Vincent Children’s Healthcare will be the only facility in the state to offer da Vinci robotic-assisted surgery for pediatric urology.
Chavez, who started training in 2008 to use R.A.L.P.H., loved the ideas behind the hospital’s “Name Our Robot” contest.
“It’s so important to introduce kids to this technology,” he said. “It makes them unafraid of the technology, and it inspires them.”