University of Arizona Medical Center surgeons have implanted a life-saving device into four patients in a first-in-the-world procedure using a robot.

The Heartware Ventricular Assist Device is small, about the size of the palm of a hand. When a heart fails, this object is surgically inserted, and takes over the function of the heart's left side.

Dr. Zain Khalpey, director of UMC's heart transplant program and mechanical circulatory support surgery program, and colleague Dr. Robert Poston, medical director of UMC's adult and robotic cardiac surgery program, are the first surgeons in the world to perform a robotic implantation of the device.

Khalpey described the procedure as a marriage of two technologies.

“The robot’s excellent vision and dexterity in exceptionally complicated patients ... would otherwise needed to have a traditional incision with of blood loss, with a very tiny device," he said. "So,combining the use of the two in unique ways provides a wonderful niche for patients and a very good opportunity with excellent or even better outcomes than what would necessarily be."

Khalpey said the robot makes a small cut on the side of the patient’s chest to implant the device, which is temporary while patients await heart transplants.