Sapan Nitin Ambani, MD and Urologist on staff at St. Joe’s, walks through the process of using the da Vinci XI on Oct. 9.

By: Seth Kinker,

At the beginning of September, St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea sent out a press release that physicians had completed the hospitals first robotic surgery. 

Over the course of two days on Oct. 9 and 10, St. Joe’s is having an open house that allows members of the community to interact with this new robotic system in the lobby of the St. Joe’s hospital. 

The da Vinci XI surgical system gives the surgeon advanced instruments to use in robotically assisted minimally invasive surgery. The surgeon performs surgery with the da Vinci XI system using instruments that he or she guides via a console. 


This new system provides an alternative to different types of surgeries, including minimally invasive advanced general surgery, hernia surgery, bariatric surgery, gynecological, and colon and urological procedures. The instruments are smaller as is the camera and the imaging quality is better than past models. 

“If you think back to how surgery was done back in the old days, there’s big open surgeries, big open incisions,” said Sapan Nitin Ambani, MD and Urologist on staff at St. Joe’s. “All laparoscopic surgery means is that it’s minimally invasive, so you get lots of small incisions. But the first instruments that came out 20, 30 years ago were essentially like chopsticks. They were like straight instruments that you couldn’t really adjust. And the visualization… What we always say is it was sort of two steps forward for the patient, but one step backwards for the surgeon.” 

Benefits of minimally invasive surgery include less pain, less blood loss, less scarring, shorter recovery time, a faster return to day to day activities, and in many cases, better clinical outcomes. 

Ambani compared the process to trying to do things with a stiff instrument, straight instruments with no range of motion, to doing the same process with the da Vinci system and a full range of motion.

“If there’s a little peg there, a little rock there, you have two hands,” said Ambani showing The Sun Times via the da Vinci XI system. “You can’t move any of your fingers, your wrists, or anything like that. Pick it up. You can pick it up, right? You could probably sandwich it, and I try to move it. But if I tell you, ‘Take it, and move it through this little hoop.’ It’s like you have to aim it, and drop it. And I would say, ‘Well, now bring your hands back. Use your wrists, fingers, pick it up, put it in the thing.’ It’s so much easier.”

Ambani walked The Sun Times through the process of connecting the system to a patient and the tools that the da Vinci XI system provided.

“When I’m starting with a patient, I put like four or five, six of these little (tools) in the slots,” said Ambani. “And so, they’re sticking out of the patient’s belly.” 

Sapan Nitin Ambani (pictured right), MD and Urologist on staff at St. Joe’s, uses the da Vinci XI on Oct. 9.

Once attached different instruments can be inserted into those slots, Ambani showed The Sun Times the different tools that included a needle driver to sew inside of a patient, scissors, dissecting instruments, staplers, all of those are controlled by a surgeon at a nearby  console. 

The surgeon looks into another big part  of the machine, imagine looking into a microscope, to see what they’re operating on in 3D. With small rings to pick up in an imaginary stomach, attendees could sit and control the robot themselves.


Students from Chelsea’s robotic program attended the open house on Oct. 9. Photo provided by St. Joe’s.

As someone who wasn’t the best Operation player growing up, I was surprised at how easy and intuitive the controls were. You inserted your middle finger and thumb into a harness  of sorts and then were able to look into the machine and control the robotic arms to try and remove rings. 

“This machine, it’s actually allowed me to convert a lot of the surgeries that I had to do, big open surgeries,” said Ambani. “I’ve been able to do that with this machine because the other advantage to this machine that I didn’t say is that it allows you to cover more surface area on the inside than you could with the older ones.” 

If you would like to check out this new addition to St. Joe’s yourself, there’s an opportunity today!

An open house in the St. Joe’s lobby is being held from 9 a.m. to 1  p.m. or 4 p.m. to  6 p.m. Members of the hospital’s surgical team will be there to demonstrate how to use the robot and explain the different type of surgeries it can perform. Community members will have an opportunity to use the robot and experience the precision necessary for surgery.