Aseem Shukla, M.D., can’t just snap his fingers to fix a problem inside an ailing child’s body. But for all the indications he leaves behind, you might think that’s how he does his job.
Thanks to the late Leo C. T. Fung, M.D., University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital is one of the nation’s pioneering centers in pediatric robotassisted surgery—a tradition that continues today with Shukla’s expertise. He uses the “hands” of a da Vinci® Surgical System to perform intricate surgical maneuvers through tiny incisions.
Ella Rammer was not yet 3 years old when her parents,Matt and Sarah Rammer, brought her to the University to have her hearing tested. The doctor who examined her, Frank Rimell, M.D., noticed that as a newborn Ella had been treated with a lifesaving antibiotic that can also cause kidney problems.
Rimell sent the Rammers to Shukla, who found an unrelated congenital defect in Ella’s right ureter—the tube connecting her kidney and bladder—that prevented urine from flowing through it properly. Without repair, the obstruction could result in kidney failure. But luckily, Shukla found it before it became a major problem.
After considering the treatment options Shukla presented to them, the Rammers chose robotassisted surgery for their little girl.
“When we have children older than a year who have kidney obstructions or anatomical problems, we attempt to use the laparoscopic robotic approach whenever we can,” Shukla says. “They heal better [and have] less pain, shorter hospital stays, and good cosmetic results.”
Remotely controlling the robotic fingers “just as you would your own hands” while peering at an enlarged image of the surgical site provided by a tiny video camera inserted into Ella’s body, Shukla was able to cut the straw-thin ureter, remove the obstruction, and suture everything back together almost without a trace.
“Ella was back on her feet in no time,” says Matt Rammer. “You can’t see the scars now on her abdomen at all.”
Today Ella is a happy, busy preschooler, skipping, swimming, and helping her dad catch big fish whenever she gets a chance.
“University of Minnesota [Amplatz] Children’s Hospital gave us answers and solutions to Ella’s health-care needs,” Matt Rammer says. “Anybody who has kids [and] they are questioning their hearing or anything—go to the U.”