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WCA, Persell Team Up To Highlight Advancements In Robotic Surgery

Pictured, from left, are Cole Joly, Spencer Kindberg and Jackson Root during WCA and Persell Middle School’s LEGO Robotics Club event. P-J photo by Gavin Paterniti

It’s not often that a favorite pastime of American youth can correlate with advancements in the field of medical technology, but that’s exactly what a local middle school and members of UPMC Chautauqua WCA have managed to achieve.

In recognition of National Robotics Week, which will be observed in the U.S. from Saturday through Sunday, April 16, WCA and Persell Middle School’s LEGO Robotics Club have teamed up in order to raise awareness about what’s new in the way of robotic surgery at the hospital and engage the students in an imaginative way.

On Wednesday, administrators, staff and surgeons from WCA visited with Persell students, who had previously been presented with information about WCA’s da Vinci Surgical System. Over the past few weeks, Persell’s LEGO Robotics Club members have designed their own unique LEGO robots styled after the technology currently being utilized by WCA’s robotic surgery staff, and were subsequently judged on their efforts by the WCA representatives.

“With National Robotics Week coming up, we thought this would be a great opportunity for kids in our community to learn more about what we’re doing with robotics at the hospital,” said Linda Johnson, marketing and communications director for UPMC Chautauqua WCA. “When we do tours, children always seem to be intrigued by the technology that we have behind closed doors that they don’t usually get to see. So we wanted them to use their imaginations, and their math and science skills, to see what they could come up with.”

Dave Gee, LEGO Robotics Club adviser, said his students, the majority of whom are fifth-graders, really took to the assignment in a way that was surprising even to him.

“They’ve absolutely geeked out on this project, it’s been fantastic,” Gee said. “All of what we do in this club is geared toward the students pushing themselves to discover how to make the robots do new things. So this was kind of a new challenge for them and they really poured their hearts and souls into trying to figure this out. Their energy has been so amazing.”

Among the WCA representatives who were on-site Wednesday to look at the LEGO robots and award a winning prize were: Eric Arnone, M.D., Urology, robotic surgeon; James Kenney, a surgical robotic nurse; and Trudy Bloomquist, nurse manager for WCA’s surgical team.

“We’re here today to really support the local community and the kids here at Persell Middle School,” Arnone said. “It’s very important to get kids interested early on in science and technology because those things play such a huge role in so many different fields and careers that they could go into. If you can spark that interest early on, the kids might have an interest in the future in pursuing these kinds of fields. So we are going to be judging the robots that the students have made, but mainly we want to support them in the work they’ve done.”

All participants received gifts for their work. The three-man team of Symon Trask, Connor Johnson and Elliott Krudus were judged to be the winners and were awarded a prize.

“It’s important to have this club because working with LEGOs is a lot like working with big buildings and skyscrapers,” Connor said. “So if we wanted to be construction workers, for instance, by doing things like this we would have more control over the design of what we wanted to build, and how it would look on the outside and on the inside.”

All of the LEGO robots created by the LEGO Robotics Club will be displayed at WCA on Thursday as part of a larger community presentation. For more information about the robotic surgery technology and equipment being utilized at the hospital, visit wcahospital.org.

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