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Woman Dies as Surgical Robot Accidentally Burns Hole in Intestine During Colon Cancer Operation


An American woman died after a surgical Robot burned a hole in her intestine during a colon cancer operation. 

Sandra Sultzer, 78, from Boca Raton, died in 2022 following a procedure to treat her colon cancer the previous year, which was performed using a ‘da Vinci’ robot, a lawsuit filed by her husband claims.

The four-armed machine is activated by a doctor who operates a camera and a surgeon who manipulates the robot’s arms from a console using a joystick and foot pedals.

But the lawsuit alleges that a fault allowed stray electrical energy emanating from the robotic arms used to cut body tissue and burn her internal organs without the surgical team’s knowledge.

The lawsuit added that this is not the first time that da Vinci robots have caused undue harm, saying that the company behind the device, Intuitive Surgical Inc., ‘has also received thousands of injury and defect reports’.

Sandra Sultzer went into surgery at Baptist Health Boca Raton Regional Hospital in September 2021 to treat her colon cancer.

Surgeons there were using the da Vinci surgical robot, a freestanding cart equipped with four arms. 

One arm holds a camera or laparoscope, and the surgeon operates the other three ‘hands’ by putting their fingers into small sets of loops behind a console.

Each arm is outfitted with forceps, scissors, scalpels, and other surgical tools, and can cut incisions about the size of a dime. 

The precise movements typically result in less blood loss and trauma to the surgical site than would an open surgery with a larger cut.

The arms are wrapped with little rubber sleeves to prevent electricity from leaking to areas of the body outside of the very precise surgical site, but the lawsuit alleges that the sleeves had cracks in them that allowed electrical currents to escape.

This is what caused a hole to be burned into Mrs Sultzer’s small intestine,, the lawsuit alleges.  

The burn as a result of electricity radiating out, known as arcing, happened outside of the doctor’s field of vision, so it went unnoticed.

A hole in the small intestine releases digestive enzymes and bile which can lead to infection. If that infection spreads, the person can go into septic shock.  

The lawsuit said: ‘Had ISI safely designed its product so that stray electrical energy would not burn the insides of patients without the knowledge or control of the operating surgeons, the small intestine injury to Mrs Sultzer would not have happened, and she would not have died.’

In addition, the lawsuit said that the company failed to adequately train doctors in how to effectively use the device, raising the odds of a potentially fatal error during surgery.

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