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University of Iowa News Release

Oct. 20, 2004

Photo: Surgeon's view when using the da Vinci Surgical System

Baby Is World's Smallest Patient To Receive Robotic Surgery

Only one month old when he made medical history, Mason Allen continues to recover at Children's Hospital at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City.

John Meehan, M.D., a pediatric surgeon with Children's Hospital of Iowa, recently used the da Vinci robotic surgical system to treat Mason. The infant is the smallest patient in the world reported to ever receive surgery using robotic technology.

The surgical team led by Meehan performed a Nissen fundoplication and gastrostomy tube placement on the 5.7-pound baby boy on Sept. 17. Surgeons completed the operation using three incisions that were one-fifth of an inch long and one incision that measured only one-eighth of an inch.

"The operation went smoothly and Mason is doing very well," said Meehan, who also is an assistant professor (clinical) in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine. During a Nissen fundoplication, surgeons wrap the top part of the stomach -- called the fundus -- around the esophagus. This helps prevent food from escaping the stomach back up the esophagus.

"This is a great opportunity for our family to thank all of the hospital staff for being professional, personable and caring people," said Chad Allen, Mason's father, of North English, Iowa. "We realize how fortunate we are to live so close to such a wonderful health care facility."

Specialists say their ability to conduct the procedure was largely due to the availability of a new five-millimeter camera system funded by Children's Miracle Network and a 5-millimeter, 30-degree camera donated by Intuitive Surgical.

"I want to thank Children's Miracle Network and Intuitive Surgical for their efforts in helping us provide the benefits of minimally invasive surgery to small infants and children," Meehan said.

"We would also like to thank everyone who has donated to Children's Miracle Network," said Shelley Allen, Mason's mother. "The network purchased medical instruments that allowed Mason a smooth and less painful recovery. We hope everyone realizes the importance of such donations."

The da Vinci robot is a complex instrument that allows a surgeon to perform minimally invasive surgery. After establishing access into the body cavity, the physician sits at a computer console that offers a three-dimensional view of the area to be treated with magnification up to 12 times that of normal vision. The surgeon uses special hand controls to manipulate long, narrow, specially hinged surgical instruments that are inserted through the small incisions in the patient.

The complex instruments can be used in hard-to-reach areas and turned in ways that would be impossible with normal wrist dexterity. Altogether, these advantages allow the surgeon to work on a smaller scale and more precisely than standard laparoscopic surgery and even traditional open surgery. Information about the system can be viewed online at

The device currently is approved for use in surgeries in the abdomen, pelvis and chest. In addition, UI Hospitals and Clinics was the first medical center in Iowa to use the da Vinci system to repair a mitral valve in the heart and to perform urological procedures such as radical prostatectomy for removing a cancerous prostate and pyeloplasty for obstructed kidneys.

Children's Hospital of Iowa at UI Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City is the state's longest-serving children's hospital. More than 130,000 children receive care at Children's Hospital of Iowa and its network of clinics across the state each year.

Children's Miracle Network is an international non-profit organization dedicated to helping children by raising funds and awareness for 170 children's hospitals throughout North America. Each year this network of premier facilities treat more than 14 million children suffering with all types of afflictions.

Children's Miracle Network partners with 135 radio stations and 200 television stations to help support critically ill and injured children. Since it inception in 1983, Children's Miracle Network has raised more than $2 billion for children's hospitals.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at

STORY SOURCE: Joint Office for Marketing and Communications, University of Iowa Health Care, 200 Hawkins Drive, Room E110 GH, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1009

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Moore, 319-356-3945,