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Hollywood To Boston Children's Hospital: Simulations Engineer Helps Surgeons Practice

BOSTON (CBS) -- Bringing Hollywood to the hospital: A Lexington man is putting his special effects skills to work to help improve the care of children in the Boston area.

It may look like the newest Hollywood project, but Ridley is actually a neurological teaching robot and the brainchild of Greg Loan, the senior simulation engineer at Boston Children's Hospital.

"I was obsessed with Hollywood movies and I thought I'd be working with George Lucas or something like that," said Loan.

Greg Loan, senior simulation engineer at Boston Children's Hospital (WBZ-TV)

Loan began his career in special effects, building creatures for Disney theme parks and Universal Studios, including tons of owls for the Harry Potter franchise.

"If you are on a movie ride and something jumps out at you," said Loan, "That might have been something that I had something to do with."

But now he's found his real calling, developing sophisticated robots and props to give the medical staff at Children's the chance to hone their craft before touching real patients.

"You have simulators that appear human, that feel human, bleed and do all of the right things that you can actually do surgery on but underneath they're robotic," explained Loan.

Engineer Lindsey Minahan is building cleft lip trainers.

Surgeons can practice cleft lip surgery on simulators at Boston Children's Hospital (WBZ-TV)

"The trickiest part is obviously getting in there and grabbing the muscle grabbing the cartilage and aligning everything properly," she explained.

Children's surgeons travel to low-income countries and perform cleft lip surgery on children without access to care.

"With these trainers," said Minahan, "They'll have a chance to operate before they get to their mission trip and hopefully have an even greater impact there."

Simulators at Boston Children's Hospitals allow surgeons to practice in a realistic setting before operating on people (WBZ-TV)

Using 3D printed materials and various types of silicone, Loan and his team have built trainers for all kinds of medical procedures: abdominal surgery, finger infections, scalp lacerations and gunshot wounds.

"You know it's sad but these things happen," said Loan. But, he said, combining his expertise in special effects and robotics with the care of children brings him immeasurable joy.

"If what I can do can help them do their job better," says Loan, "Then I know that I've contributed to saving a child's life which there's no feeling in the world like it."

Boston Children's Hospital hopes to one day make these simulators available to other hospitals around the world.

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