Thanks to Dr. Stacey South and her high-tech robot assistant, Lana Craig had an almost pain-free, successful hysterectomy this week at Manatee Memorial Hospital.Craig was the first patient to undergo a surgery performed with the hospital’s new $1.5 million da Vinci robot.The scene was out of “Star Wars.”Standing taller than any member of the surgical team, the da Vinci robot hovered over Craig, its interactive arms holding surgical instruments and a high resolution 3-D camera inserted into her abdomen through one-inch incisions. A blue light at the elbow blinked and beeped each time South manipulated one of the robot’s arms.Throughout the procedure, South sat at a console 10 feet away from Craig. Peering through a high-resolution 3D stereo viewer, South had a magnified view of her patient’s anatomy in brilliant color, a view far more precise than her eyes alone could provide. She used hand and foot controls to maneuver the robot’s arms. Designed to exceed the natural range of movement of the human hand, the robot’s wrists gave South super-human control, translating her commands into precise movements beyond the capacity of human hands.Developed by Intuitive Surgical, the da Vinci robot provides the look and feel of traditional “open” surgery, while minimizing risk of infection by eliminating the need for a long incision, thereby speeding recovery.Manatee Memorial is the first hospital in Manatee County to acquire the da Vinci Surgical System, made possible by the arrival of South, an gynecologic oncologist trained in robotic-assisted surgery who opened her Bradenton practice in September.Less than 24 hours after her surgery, Craig was walking the hospital corridors and even took a shower by herself, before being discharged.“I feel so much better,” she said. “I am so excited I was the first patient.”Craig, who teaches health and physical education at King Middle School, can’t wait to tell her students about her experience. As she was wheeled into the operating room, the surgical team said, “Meet Mr. da Vinci,” who was waiting in the corner.“My first thought was that’s a very big machine,” said Craig.From her research, Craig knew what was going to happen when they put her under.“I watched the procedure on a video. I saw how the surgeon activated the arms and robot’s fingers,” Craig said. “The video included an interview with a patient who said that a week after she felt so good it was like she never had surgery.”Two surgical teams were on hand for Craig’s procedure, along with technical representatives from Intuitive Surgical. Steven Wentworth, Manatee Memorial’s director of surgical services, provided a running commentary.“The robot is a virtual extension of Dr. South,” said Wentworth. “The best candidates for using the da Vinci are surgeons who spent a lot of time as kids playing video games because they are used to the hand movements.”Wentworth pointed out the absence of pressure on Craig’s abdomen as the robot’s arms moved to South’s commands.“That’s what blew me away,” he said. “I don’t know how they developed the technology that allows the instruments to move without putting pressure on the abdomen.”Trey Thomas, one of Intuitive’s reps, compared the da Vinci’s wrist movements to the conventional laparoscopy or minimally invasive procedures, in which surgeons use long-shafted instruments that have no wrists.“Imagine trying to tie your shoes with chop sticks,” Thomas said. “That’s what it’s like with conventional laparoscopy.”Then he twisted his hand as far as his wrist would allow.“The da Vinci instrument tips can turn 540 degrees, far greater than the human hand.”South chose in part to relocate her practice from Amherst, N.Y., to Bradenton because Manatee County did not have an oncologic gynecologist. She is one of several Manatee Memorial physicians who will perform surgeries with da Vinci. Bradenton urologist Mark Weintraub is in the final phase of training and is already scheduled for prostate surgeries in the near future.Other doctors are lining up, said Vernon DeSear, hospital spokesman.“They can’t wait,” he said. “They have already sat down at the console and tried using the controls.”Most insurance polices cover robotic-assisted surgeries because they cost the same as traditional laparoscopic procedures, said DeSear.Craig is very pleased with the outcome.Within hours of surgery, Craig got the good news that the growth South removed was benign.“That’s the word you want to hear,” she said.