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Students from Delhi Charter School visited P&S Surgical Hospital Wednesday afternoon in preparation for their next big adventure: the World VEX Robotics World Championship in Louisville, Kentucky, where they will compete against 275 middle school robotics teams, April 23-26. The Delhi group is Louisiana’s only middle school team to reach the World Championships.


Majaydasis Dismuke, 13, Hope Spruell, 15, James Kyle Peters, 13, and Christian Smith, 14, visited the hospital operating room, dressed in surgical attire, and learned about the da Vinci Surgical System. The students viewed a demonstration of the surgical robot, listened to Walter Sartor, M.D., and Bart Liles, M.D., explain the robot’s intricacies, and even practiced operating the robot.


The experience evoked a sense of accomplishment, Smith said. “It made me feel very professional to see medical doctors demonstrate and explain how they work with the robots because that’s what we’re aiming towards right now.”


James Kyle said his experience in the P&S operating room left him awestruck and more prepared for the upcoming World Championships.


“It’s a feeling I’ve never felt before. Most people go their whole lives without even seeing one of these. I have never dreamt of doing something like that,” he said. “It’s like having a piece of cake, but not enough of it. There’s no icing. We came here and found more information that was missing, that could make it more complete.”


The robotic competition required the students to assemble a robot; draw a blueprint; program the brain; and learn to mobilize the robot, both with and without a remote control. The robot needed to balance on a bridge, knock over obstacles, and overcome other physical challenges.


The students competed at qualifying events in Madison, Miss., Delhi, and New Orleans. They earned enough points to advance to the state competition in New Orleans. 


When the team, coached by Russell Meader and Crystal Peters, learned they won the state competition and would advance to Kentucky, the students screamed and even shed a few tears.


Crystal, mother of James Kyle, said, “We had our mind set that we were going to state, and we practiced at least three days a week for several hours. The World Championships will be an incredible experience for these children.”


She said the review of P&S Surgical’s robot prepared the students for the upcoming Kentucky competition, which requires a S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) component.


“The way I look at it: not every student is athletically inclined, and this gives them a sport. It takes a skilled driver, a programmer, a mechanic, a builder, and an artist. It’s all about teamwork, just like a basketball team,” she said.


The artist—James Kyle—has always loved to draw. In fact, he drew a picture of the da Vinci Surgical System and presented it to Sartor and Liles Wednesday afternoon. 


“The Lord blessed me with the ability to draw, and I love to put my drawings into motion. Robotics has let me do just that. I was diagnosed with Autism when I was little, but it has given me special talents that not everyone has,” James Kyle said.


Spruell imagines a future for herself in healthcare. “I learned more here than back at home with the facts we were given today. It was interesting because that’s what I want to be when I go to college—a nurse.”


The students were not the only ones to enjoy the visit. 


Sartor said, “It’s a lot of fun to spread the word about what we’re capable of doing here, and it’s fun to introduce the younger generation to the technology we are using now.”


Liles caught a glimpse of the future, he said.


“You can tell they are very interested in it, and they enjoyed the experience. We were in their shoes not too long ago, and it’s kind of fun to see where we were before. They’re probably going to be in our shoes in another 20 years, running the show, and teaching kids how to do this too.”

Story by Laura Clark