Robot named Lucy brings precision, comfort to kidney transplant surgery

Oct 27, 2023, 5:27 PM | Updated: Oct 30, 2023, 1:21 pm

MURRAY – Earlier this year newlywed Jessie Briggs was about to take part in a surgical first at the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray.

“I remember I went into the operating room and the robot was above me,” Briggs recalled. “And they were like OK, this is the robot that is going to be performing your surgery.”

Briggs’ 24-year-old husband Henry was also awaiting surgery. In the midst of declining kidney failure, he was about to receive one of his wife’s healthy kidneys. She was Henry’s perfect match, a 1-100,000 chance.

Henry Briggs

Henry Briggs received a kidney from his wife, Jessie. (Briggs Family)

The surgical team included Dr. Brian Cook who would be at the controls of a robot named Lucy. Both were about to begin the first Intermountain Health kidney transplant involving a robot.

“The robot instruments will have electrosurgical capabilities,” Dr. Cook explained. “Whether they can cut and seal vessels, or divide tissue and make sure there’s no bleeding. There’s lots of different functionality that each of the four arms can potentially play a role in.”

Keep in mind that Lucy only removes the donor kidney, the actual transplant takes place by more traditional means.

The impact on the donor is much less invasive and Lucy’s incision much smaller.

Lucy during surgery

Lucy was used only to remove Jessie’s donated kidney. Lucy leaves minimal scarring. (Ken Fall/KSL TV)

“With the robotic approach I’m able to do a bikini line incision, similar to a c-section incision,” Dr. Cook said. “We’re seeing that patients are having much quicker recovery, less pain, smaller risk of hernia with a smaller incision.”

Briggs had seen scars from transplant incisions done traditionally. “I wasn’t a big fan of the big incision and I didn’t want that on my body,” she said.

Briggs remembers her dad telling her not to worry. “He had seen one of the robots cut open a grape and sew it back together and it looked perfect,” Briggs said. “So, I was like if the robot can sew a grape up they’ll be fine doing it to me.”

Jessie Briggs

Jessie Briggs donated a kidney to her husband, Henry. (Briggs Family)

Dr. Richard Matern is the Associate Medical Director of Robotics at Intermountain Health and he noted that since April, the transplant team’s robot has performed almost a dozen donor kidney extractions.

He says that robotic surgery has many profound implications and applications. “There’s thoracic surgery, there’s gynecologic oncology surgery, kidney cancer, prostate cancer,” he said. “There’s a lot of cancer surgery that involves reconstruction, and that’s where the robot really shines.”

As for Henry Briggs – the fortunate recipient of a new kidney – life couldn’t be better. “It’s been amazing,” he said with a smile. “I didn’t know people could feel as good as I feel now.”

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Robot named Lucy brings precision, comfort to kidney transplant surgery