continued The latest version of the Zeus machine features micro wrists at the end of the instruments that give surgeons nine degrees of freedom, allowing them to perform complicated suturing knots on internal organs from across the room -- or across an ocean, as happened recently. "It was called Lindbergh Project," Miller explains. "What they did is they had a patient in Strasbourg, France, and a French surgeon named Jacques Marescaux was in New York, and they did a gall-bladder surgery. The patient was a 68-year-old woman. Telecom France has six lines of very wide fiber-optic communication lines, very high speed, laid across the Atlantic. And, using those, they did the surgery with a delay time of 150 milliseconds. Between moving your instruments in New York, the signal going all the way to France, and coming back to New York, it took 150 milliseconds, a sixth or seventh of a second. That permitted the surgeon to do the surgery. They removed her gall bladder and they released her 48 hours later. That proved, for the first time on a human patient, that you can do surgery at a very long distance."
Currently, the costs of the surgical robots -- $100,000 for Aesop, a million dollars for Zeus -- are too high for most Mexican health-care systems, especially considering that the surgeries they facilitate can be performed without them. But Miller believes that robotics are the future and points out that they already save money by lowering the number of operating-room personnel and shortening expensive operating room and recovery times. He says the IMSS has expressed interest in acquiring the robots, though to date, they haven't done so.
In all, Miller has trained around 30 surgeons in robotic surgery. Half of them are in Tijuana, making the border city the leader in Mexico -- and among the leaders of the world -- in the field of robotic surgery. Asked how much he charges for the course, Miller answers, "I don't ask them for a nickel. They don't pay for it."
Though not a boastful type, when pressed, Miller admits that he's proud to be boosting the standing of medicine in Tijuana and Mexico. "I'm trying to make something happen faster than it should happen naturally in Mexico," he says. "We usually lag behind the States in technology. But if we can get help from American companies, and they bring down all the technology, we're making the future come faster to Latin America. And we want the world to see that if you give Mexican surgeons these instruments, they're as skilled as anybody in any part of the world."