TRINCOMALEE, Sri Lanka – U.S and partner nation service members participating in Pacific Partnership 2018 (PP18)
and Sri Lankan surgeons, assigned to Base Hospital Mutur, conducted the first ever robot-assisted surgery aboard Military
Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) on May 4.
The joint team of multinational surgeons and medical professionals successfully completed a cholecystectomy, or gall
bladder removal, using a Da Vinci XI Robot Surgical System on a Sri Lankan citizen. This surgery marked the first time
the Da Vinci Robot has been used on a live patient aboard a maritime vessel from any country.
“This was a historic moment for both Sri Lanka and all the partner nations participating in PP18,” said Lt. Cmdr. Kyle
Gadbois, director of surgical services aboard Mercy who is a native of Mukilteo, Washington. “Not only was this the first
time the Da Vinci XI Surgical System has been used on a patient while aboard a ship, but it also marked the first robotic-
assisted surgery to be conducted in Sri Lanka. It was an exciting experience and I am thankful for the opportunity to have
been a part of this ground-breaking moment for the surgical field.”
Prior to the actual surgery on May 4, Gadbois along with Dr. Vyramuthu Varanitharan, a general surgeon at Base Hospital
Mutur, and Cmdr. Tamara Worlton, a surgeon from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center assigned to Mercy for
PP18, ran through simulation exercises using the Da Vinci XI Surgical System on a mock patient and finalized surgical
plans as a team.
“This surgery took a lot of planning before we actually performed it aboard the Mercy,” said Worlton. “Dr. Varanitharan
was kind enough to prescreen possible candidates prior to the Mercy’s arrival to Sri Lanka.”
On May 28, the team selected a patient who needed a cholecystectomy and was willing to have a robotic-assisted surgery
performed. According to Worlton, the surgery itself went way better than anticipated.
“I believe the surgery was a success because of the continuous collaboration between our partner nations’ medical staff
prior to the surgery where we discussed different surgical techniques the different countries do and how it could be
incorporated into the surgery.”
The surgery marked an additional first for Dr. Varanitharan, as this was also the first surgery he has conducted aboard a
ship during his entire medical career.
“This was the first time I have ever operated aboard a ship before and it surprised me,” said Varanitharan. “It is very
stable and doesn’t move around. It felt as if I was doing surgery in an operating room in a hospital. It was a fantastic
experience to have been able to do surgery on a hospital ship and it is something my team and I will never forget.”
After the surgery, the patient transferred to the post anesthetic unit aboard Mercy to recover and transfer off the ship for
additional monitoring by Sri Lankan doctors.
Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multilateral disaster response preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-
Pacific. This year's mission includes military and civilian personnel from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom,
Australia, France, Peru, and Japan.
USNS Mercy made previous stops in the 2018 mission in Bengkulu, Indonesia and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and are
currently in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. After departing Sri Lanka, USNS Mercy will make mission stops in Vietnam and
Japan strengthening alliances, partnerships, and multilateral cooperation throughout the Indo-Pacific region.
Pacific Partnership 2018 consists of more than 800 U.S. and partner nation military and civilian personnel working side-
by-side with host nation counterparts to be better prepared for potential humanitarian aid and disaster response situations.