World first for kidney operation
May 19, 2003 NZoom One News

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A state-of-the-art mobile mobile surgery parked at Christchurch Hospital was the scene of a groundbreaking kidney operation on Monday.

Surgeons in Christchurch joined their Brisbane counterparts through advanced video conferencing to carry out the complex trans-Tasman kidney operation.

In a two-hour, step-by-step operation, the team of surgeons in Christchurch removed a diseased kidney from a woman using laparoscopic or key hole procedures.

It was a trial run for a future kidney transplant.

The operation used advanced digital conferencing technology allowing urological surgeon Dr David Nicol, from Brisbane's Princess Alexandra Hospital, to talk his Kiwi counterparts through the procedure in real-time.

The operation was beamed live from the bus to the top of Christchurch Hospital, across town to the Sugarloaf receiver on the Port Hills, up to Auckland's Sky Tower, then across to Australia on the Southern Cross cable onto the roof of Brisbane's Princess Alexandra Hospital.

Dr Nicol, whose team at Princess Alexandra Hospital performs the most kidney transplants in Australia, assisted using a joystick linked to four remote cameras inside the theatre and the patient's body.

"The plan before this technology became available would have been for someone such as myself to go and be in the theatre at the same time that they were performing the procedure and supervise," Dr Nicol told journalists.

"This has enabled me in real time to participate in their operation and focus them on differences in technique between that what is normally used and what's necessary for this (transplant)."

The technology allowed Dr Nicol to view the operation in intricate detail, via microwave and fibre-optic technology providing 10 times the clarity of usual video-conferencing.

Dr Nicol said it was the first time such an operation had taken place across an international border in a manner which could become common-place and would have important ramifications for the future.

"This will be an advantage to surgeons in this part of the world, where we are remote from other western countries, particularly Europe and America," he said.

"So we can have world experts involved in operations that we are performing in real time."

Speaking from Christchurch, surgeon in charge Dr Peter Davidson said the procedure had run smoothly.

"There is no question that having that experience coming into your theatre just makes it a hell of a lot less stressful," Dr Davidson said in a direct-link from his theatre.

"It is certainly going to be cost-effective. The other option really is to fly somebody in if you want assistance until you feel confident and up to speed and that is really going to be an enormous cost, and in the current climate, probably not affordable."

Dr Davidson said the patient was recovering well.