Local eighth-grader gets hands-on experience on her two passions — robotics and surgery

When Cieasha Jones, 13, attended Wednesday’s 10,000th robotic surgery milestone event at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, she had no idea she would have the opportunity to experience one-on-one simulated surgical training with renowned UAB surgeons.

But that is exactly what happened for Cieasha, an eighth-grader at Oak Mountain Middle School. She has aspired to be a surgeon since she was a young girl, but Cieasha also has a passion for robotics. In fact, she is a member of Oak Mountain’s world championship robotics team. When her mother, Cieara Jones, R.N., a nurse in UAB’s Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit, saw an email about the robotic surgery event at UAB, she thought Cieasha would enjoy attending and learning how her two passions could collide in the real world.

“I checked my email and saw that this event was taking place and thought ‘there’s no harm in going,’” Cieara said. “I’m just trying to find ways to help Cieasha on this journey and thought seeing firsthand what robotic surgery is about would be a neat experience.”

After the event concluded, Cieasha tested the Intuitive Surgical daVinci simulator when Kenneth Kim, M.D., associate professor in the School of Medicine’s Division of Gynecologic Oncology and director of Robotic Surgical Education and Training, struck up a conversation about her passion. From there, he pulled her aside to walk her through individualized simulated training and teach her along the way how robotic surgery works.

“It was amazing [to replicate robotic surgery],” Cieasha said. “I sort of knew that robotics played a role in surgery, but I didn’t realize it had this big an impact. This was a great experience that I never thought I would be able to get.”

With Kim’s assistance, Cieasha was able to use the daVinci surgery simulator to conduct a virtual hysterectomy, with other Department of Surgery surgeons like John Porterfield, M.D., associate professor and director of UAB’s General Surgery Residency Program, watching along and coaching her through the computer-generated procedure.

“It was easy teaching her, as she has an intuitive knack and feel for this and has the hand-eye coordination already,” said Kim, a member of UAB’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. “She is young, but age doesn’t matter if you have the right talent. It’s our job as educators to identify where trainees are and bring them to where they need to be. She already has the hand-eye down, so she has a leg up.”

While Cieasha has many years to go before she can become a surgeon, she is committed and dedicated to her dream. When asked if this experience motivated her even more to pursue a career in medicine, Cieasha replied, “Absolutely. It is set in stone.”