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Man Meets Machine: Allen Cancer Patient Gets Close-Up Look Medical City Mckinney's Da Vinici XI

Publication: Allen American 

Allen resident Marko Donaldson has spent the majority of his life around robots. From working around industrial machinery used to build cars to fixing robots used to aid naval ships, he has seen almost all of what the industry has to offer.

Now he can add surgical robots to his list.

Donaldson, 59, was afforded the opportunity Monday afternoon to interact with a surgical robot at Medical City McKinney under the supervision of Dr. Nathan Smallwood. The robot on display was the da Vinci Xi, a state-of-the-art robot developed by Intuitive that usually costs around $2 million.

“I’m most interested to see how the robots used in the medical field compare to the robots used for industrial purposes,” Donaldson said before meeting the da Vinci Xi. “I’m really excited.”

Donaldson’s relationship with Smallwood and Medical City McKinney started unexpectedly when his wife took him to the hospital after he started to notice severe pain in his right abdomen.

“She took me to the emergency room that afternoon, and by that evening I got a prognosis: stage 4 kidney cancer,” Donaldson said. “They found a large mass around my kidney, and they had to operate. It was a matter of life and death.”

Smallwood was the doctor assigned to Donaldson, and from the time he was admitted to the day of his surgery, their friendship flourished over conversations about robots.

“We have definitely become more friends than patient-and-doctor or patient-and-surgeon,” Smallwood said.

Smallwood led Donaldson’s surgery to remove the mass on Jan. 20. The surgeon said because the mass and incision was so large, they opted to not use the robot.

“There were parts during the surgery in getting his tumor out that would have benefited from a magnified view (from the robot) than using our own vision, but the incision had to be so big that it defeats the purpose (of using a robot),” Smallwood said.

Now Donaldson is in recovery and has since been released from the hospital, but he said he is just glad he can stand up straight again.

“They told me that 30 years ago my chances to make it out cancer-free would have been very slim, but with today’s technology, my chances are higher,” Donaldson said.

Donaldson said it took about two-and-a-half weeks from the time he first mentioned his interest in looking at a surgical robot to Monday when he finally got to see one.

“The moment I started talking about robotics, his eyes lit right up,” Smallwood said. “I mean, he fixes robots for a living. He asked me to take pictures of (it), so I figured we needed to get him in here to actually see this thing.”

During his time in the operating room with the doctors and da Vinci Xi, Donaldson kept saying, “Wow, this is so cool.”

“It’s been awesome being able to show him this,” Smallwood said. “We talk about (the robot), but talking about it is different than seeing it up close and actually being able to play with it.”

This story originally appeared on Allen American