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Local middle schoolers provide new name for Hume-Lee’s robotic surgical system

Shriya Chemudupati is instructed how to use HARPER by Yolonda Brown, specialty team manager for robotics.

Shriya Chemudupati is instructed how to use HARPER by Yolonda Brown, specialty team manager for robotics.


By Leha Byrd
University Public Affairs

Monday, May 16, 2016

The robotic system used by the Virginia Commonwealth University Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center to perform kidney removals for living donors has a new name. The $2 million state-of-the-art transplantation instrument is now known as HARPER.

Two 12-year-olds, an aspiring surgeon and scientist, offered the name when entering a robot-naming contest sponsored by Hume-Lee. HARPER is also an acronym for Helpful Awesome Resourceful Protective Engineered Robot. The contest, which garnered more than 700 entries from throughout the Richmond area, was designed to familiarize young people with organ transplantation, as well as highlight the use of STEM fields in the operating room. The system was formerly known by its more technical name, the da Vinci Surgical System.

The winners, Haasita Akkala and Shriya Chemudupati, entered the contest as a pair and both attend Richmond’s George Henry Moody Middle School. They learned about the contest through a booth VCU Health had at the Metro Richmond STEM Fair that was hosted by the MathScience Innovation Center.

 In coming up with a name, the pair said they wanted to be welcoming.

“We wanted people to think HARPER is their best friend,” Chemudupati said.

“We wanted to make it child friendly. We heard it could also be used for children so we wanted to not make it (the name) scary,” Akkala said.

More than 700 entries were submitted for the contest, said Katie Mardigian, Hume-Lee transplant outreach coordinator. Five of the six finalists were given a tour of the Hume-Lee facility recently and granted access to its operating room.  As part of the tour, Chandra Bhati, M.D., who performs the robotic donor nephrectomies, and other Hume-Lee staff used the classic children’s board game Operation to demonstrate how HARPER is currently utilized.

Five of the six Hume-Lee robot naming contest finalists stand with Regina Smithey, operating room transplant coordinator; Chandra Bhati, M.D., transplant surgeon; Yolonda Brown, specialty team manager for Robotics; and Tashana Taylor, surgical tech III, in the operating room where HARPER will be used.

“The students were eager to learn about how the robot works and got hands-on experience with the ins and outs of the operating room,” Mardigian said.  “We hope to continue to develop interest and familiarity with organ donation and transplantation among young people, and encourage students to learn about how we apply STEM in hospitals. Saving lives through organ transplantation is not possible without the hard work and breakthroughs of scientists, engineers, technicians and mathematicians.”

In the field of transplantation, Hume-Lee is the first center in the state of Virginia and surrounding states to offer robotic surgery for living organ donors. With this technology, surgeons manipulate robotic instruments through a state-of-the-art console that provides advanced, three-dimensional vision, precision and control.

Medical professionals praise robotic surgery for its quicker recovery time, due to the limited amount of movement needed inside the abdomen because of robotic precision. Other benefits include less scarring and pain for donors.

Akkala, the aspiring surgeon, said she’s hopeful people will have confidence in the new procedure and the future of similar technologies.

“I want everyone to have trust in [HARPER] since it’s a new technology,” she said. “I know in the future we will have even better technology.”

Haasita Akkala and Shriya Chemudupati in the Hume-Lee operating room.



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