Robotic Surgery — A First For Kingdom

RIYADH, 13 September 2004 — It seemed like a scene from a sci-fi movie enacted at King Saud University (KSU). The robot moved slowly across the room toward 13-year-old Saudi girl Sheikha Al-Ajazi maneuvering over her motionless body. Three gangly arms slowly descended, penetrating the abdomen of the girl, whose weight exceeded 102 kg at the time of operation with major BMI (body mass index) inconsistencies and ailments reported to a panel of doctors and surgeons because of morbid obesity.

It was not a movie scene — it was real-life drama in the operating room of King Khaled University Hospital (KKUH) which is part of KSU. It was a life-saving operation, the first of its kind in the world on a child, performed in the Saudi capital.

“Patients can expect dramatic benefits since the da Vinci robots of the United States will be more and more used in Saudi Arabia,” said Dr. Aayed R. Al-Qahtani, an expert in pediatric mini-invasive surgery and associate director of postgraduate training at the KSU’s College of Medicine.

This medical feat called robotic gastric banding will revolutionize the medical world in the Kingdom, where more than 20 percent people are obese. Girls like Al-Ajazi suffering from morbid obesity will get more benefits in terms of physical appearance, looks and overall BMI consistency especially at the time of marriage and afterward in their conjugal lives.

In this context, it is important to note that a study on obesity among Saudis aged 14 and above showed that 27.23 percent of males and 25.20 percent of females were overweight, with the prevalence of obesity being 13.05 percent among males and 20.26 percent among females.

Surprisingly, World Health Organization studies have shown that over 50 percent of people in the Gulf are overweight or obese, caused by lack of exercise and sedentary lifestyle. High levels of obesity exist particularly among women. Obesity rates of 25-30 percent and even higher are typical in Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE.

Hence, the robot-assisted surgeries are likely to be very common in near future. In fact, this robot-assisted surgeries are also becoming increasingly common in the US, where nearly 40 percent people suffer from obesity.

Dr. Al-Qahtani said: “The use of da Vinci robot for the medical operation of the Saudi girl drastically reduced bleeding, required minimal cutting and yielded meteoric recovery time.”

The KKUH became the first hospital in the world to carry out this robotic procedure. The robotic gastric banding, Dr. Al-Qahtani said, is like tying a belt around the uppermost part of stomach. The band narrows and divides the stomach into two sections in a shape of an hourglass. “Following the gastric banding operation, the patients like Al-Ajazi feel full after eating a small amount of food just to fill up the newly created small upper part of the stomach,” the surgeon explained.

The gastric banding helps to avoid overeating and decrease intake of overall daily food. “In fact, by nature of gastric banding, one will eat less, feel less hungry and gradually lose weight,” said Dr. Al-Qahtani.

In robotic surgery, the instruments are small but appear huge because they are magnified 10 times by the endoscope. Dr. Al-Qahtani said in robotic-assisted surgery, very small incisions, about the size of a pencil and called ports, are used to place mechanical surgical tools into the body.

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