Woman Thankful Hospital Robot Is On Duty
CLINTON, Iowa -- When Gerri Nichols got ready for church the morning of May 20, she didn't know a robot would help save her life later that day.
Nichols, 69 of Clinton, arrived at the Mercy Medical Center emergency room at 8:30 that morning with stroke symptoms. Doctors expeditiously deployed a remote presence robot manned by University of Iowa neurology specialist Dr. Enrique Leira to evaluate her condition.
The remote presence robot is the first of its kind in Iowa. Through a partnership between Mercy Medical and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, specialists in Iowa City can evaluate patients to determine the severity of their conditions through two-way video conferencing. Mercy's medical personnel began using the robot on May 8; since then they have treated 12 patients.
Mercy does not currently have a neurologist on staff, a problem many hospitals in rural areas face. With the addition of the robot, patients can receive a neurological exam within minutes.
The robot can also be moved through the room remotely by doctors in Iowa City.
Nichols' husband, Highland, said at first he was confused by the robot evaluating his wife.
"Who's this guy on this machine?" he asked.
As Leira moved the robot around the room, evaluated CAT scans and conducted tests by talking to Gerri and asking her to read as well as identify pictures, Highland began to understand what the robot's presence meant for his wife.
"I realized this doctor in Iowa City was virtually right here with my wife in the ER," he said.
After Leira determined Gerri's stroke was serious, she was airlifted to Iowa City where she had a risky surgery to remove a blood clot.
Within four hours of arriving at the Mercy emergency room, Nichols was out of surgery and on her way to recovery.
"We got the best technology on the planet and the best care by some of the best doctors. The team in the Clinton ER was obviously well trained on how to react with the robot. They just worked," Highland said.
After her surgery, Nichols returned to Clinton for a week of inpatient therapy at Mercy South. According to the Vice President of Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer for Mercy, Amy Berentes, the in-patient care for a patient who experienced a stroke as severe as Nichols' is typically much longer.
According to Dr. Harold Adams, a U of I professor of neurology and director of the UI Stroke Center, reducing the time it takes for a stroke patient to receive care is key to treatment and recovery. The robot was critical to reducing the amount of time Nichols had to wait.
"A stroke does not follow business hours," he said.
Specialists at the University of Iowa Stroke Center will be available to Mercy patients through the robot 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
"I'm delighted with the success in Clinton and look forward to more success in the future," Adams said.
While Nichols doesn't remember being examined by Leira through the robot, she said she is grateful for and amazed by the care she received. She and her husband are looking forward to throwing a party for her 70th birthday.
"I don't remember it, but I know I'm here and I can talk," Nichols said. "I'm doing well."
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