There’s more to this tractor-trailer at Clara Maass than meets the eye

Photos by Jeff Bahr/ Mock surgery on wheels: Covidien’s mobile operating room parked at Clara Maass.


By Jeff Bahr

High-tech minimally invasive surgical procedures require high-tech training that is ever-evolving. Receiving such instruction used to require that surgeons leave a hospital to be trained offsite, but not when it comes to laparoscopic surgery.

Covidien, a medical device company that provides hospitals with surgical equipment has created a mobile operating room in the form of an 85-foot tractor- trailer that expands to a 1200 square foot training facility. The unit weighs in at a whopping 78,000 pounds, expands to 19 feet wide, and features five operating room stations where surgeons receive hands-on training using the latest and greatest tools that medical science has conjured up. On June 8, visitors were invited to see this rolling wonder while it was parked (temporarily) beside the ambulatory emergency care area at Clara Maass Hospital.

“I truly believe the more we know how the product actually works, it benefits (us) when discussing bringing products in and negotiating prices,” explained Lauren Dente, the Director of Materials Management at Clara Maass. Covidien representative Sean Wolak agreed with Dente and expanded on the idea behind the facility. “I think every hospital’s ultimate goal is to offer a good product to the patients, but also obviously they have to be cost conscious,” said Wolak.

“This will accomplish both. You can have a good understanding and a good value system of where money really should go for the hospital to remain profitable. Clara Maass has a contract with Covidien and buys a lot of our products, so as a result we wanted to come here and show our continued support.”

On this day, the host vehicle fluttered with activity as hospital staff and visitors moved about to take everything in. Large rolling carts holding a cache of purpose-designed instruments were situated in the vehicle’s largest room where Covidien representatives stood at the ready to inform and instruct. An examination room, half as large, flanked the faux operating facility.

I learned that minimally invasive surgery has now become the norm at hospitals — not too surprising considering the procedure’s inherent benefits of greatly lessened trauma and risk of infection to patients. “A lot of these surgical products are currently used and stocked in the operating room (at Clara Maass) and some of these are not even to market yet,” explained Wolak. “Surgeons can train on things that are currently there, as well as train on things that are yet to come. So if they go back and see their patients, and they identify different disorders and different diseases, they can start coming up with different procedures and different ways to do everything that’s available or is going to be available. ”

The mobile operating room inside the Covidien trailer.


Covidien representative Sean Wolak demonstrates “graspers” as monitor traces his moves.


With that, Wolak demonstrated “graspers,” a clever device that effectively becomes an extension of one’s hands while performing surgery. Training with these, surgeons and nurses increase their dexterity and precision in a forgiving environment. A mock belly, made of plastic, represents an actual patient’s stomach, and all moves performed within it are viewed on an overhead monitor. The most striking part of the setup from a layman’s perspective is the small opening necessary to perform the procedure. Wolak explained that such incisions can “vary from fi ve to 15 millimeters” depending on the type of instrument being used. This is a far cry from the old days when a patient would endure incisions that measured many inches in length.

But the biggest wonder was yet to come. Covidien rep Devin Helmes demonstrated Sonicision, the company’s latest hi-tech tool specifi cally designed to cut and cauterize. As the very first cordless ultrasonic dissector, the self-contained hand-held unit allows surgeons to move about unencumbered by wires as they perform their exacting task. That it accomplishes this task using mechanical energy only (the unit vibrates at an astounding 55,000 movements per second) is rather amazing, but with that it’s only getting warmed up,so to speak. Immediately after the tool produces an incision, it staunches blood flow by cauterizing the wound: good vibrations by anyone’s measure, according to Helmes. In practice, the device can cut through blood vessels as large as five millimeters and seal them off before any bleeding occurs, said Helmes as he masterfully demonstrated the unit on pieces of raw chicken and beef.

While nodding to the fact that Covidien operates in an extraordinarily competitive industry, Helmes stressed the importance of his company’s latest breakthrough item and beamed as he concluded the demonstration. “We’re happy to improve our technology,” said Helmes. “No one has this (Sonicision). No one has a cordless (ultrasonic dissector) so this is ground breaking. “I can’t wait to show this to the surgeons!”

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