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A Call to Arms

Robotic-assisted surgery offers many benefits to patients

AMC Physicians
Pictured from left:Urologists Martin Walsh, MD, andDavid Miller, MD, are using the da Vinci robot at Atrium to assist in urologicalprocedures. Heather Hilkowitz, MD,and Juan Reina, MD, use the da Vinci for gynecological procedures.

It may not be what you initially picture when you hear the word “robot.” But the da Vinci® Si HD Surgical System is taking operating rooms by storm as it assists surgeons in performing highly effective, minimally invasive surgeries with less pain, shorter hospital stays and quicker recovery times for patients.

The da Vinci robot is currently used in operating suites at Atrium Medical Center to assist surgeons in specific urological and gynecological surgeries.

Using the da Vinci system, the surgeon controls the robot from a console located near the patient in the operating room. At the console, the surgeon has a 3-dimensional view of the surgical field using a special camera on one arm of the robot. The surgeon controls every move of the robot using hand controls. Each movement of the surgeon’s hands, wrists and fingers is translated into precise movements by instruments attached to the robot.

Robotic-assisted surgery using the da Vinci system allows the surgeon to operate through five small incisions. The system provides high-definition imagery for the surgeon and the surgical team, as well as magnification of the image by up to 10 times for enhanced views of the operative field. This, along with greater dexterity and range of motion, can result in better outcomes for patients.

BACK IN THE GAME: Robotic-assisted prostatectomy offers quick recovery

It didn’t surprise Charles Maertz that his family doctor found elevated PSA (prostate-specific antigen) levels during a routine physical. “You hear it everywhere that men my age are getting prostate cancer,” says Charles. “The first thing on my mind was, ‘How do we get rid of it? What are my options?’”

Charles was referred to Martin Walsh, MD, urologist at Atrium, who gave him another blood test, a sonogram and a biopsy. “What we found was an aggressive form of cancer,” explains Dr. Walsh, “but he’s a healthy 69-year-old man otherwise, so we had some options to offer him.”

Dr. Walsh has been performing da Vinci robotic-assisted prostatectomies for about two years now. “We prefer it because patients experience less pain post-operatively, and they require a shorter hospital stay than with a traditional prostatectomy,” he says. “Patients return to normal daily activities within a couple of weeks. In fact, I have to encourage many patients to take it easy because they feel so good.”

Nancy and Charles Maertz
Charles Maertz, shown with his wife, Nancy, was amazed at how well he felt after his prostatectomy. His quick recovery allowed him to get back on the golf course within weeks of the procedure.

Charles is retired from General Electric, where he worked in production engine testing, so he had some time to do a little research. “Dr. Walsh told me about all of my options and gave me a DVD about the robot,” says Charles. “I had never heard of it before.” After weighing the other choices, robotic-assisted surgery looked like the best option to Charles and his wife, Nancy, “because it required less recovery time.”

After the surgery, Charles had no pain, no infection, “no problems,” he says. “The worst part was that the catheter had to stay in for two weeks. There was a small incision above my belly button and two smaller incisions along each side of my belly for a total of five,” Charles explains. “If I had it to do over again, I’d make the same decision because otherwise it would be an eight-to-nine-inch incision.”

David C. Miller, MD, urologist at Atrium and Dr. Walsh’s partner, is also trained to use the robot. “This new surgical robot is a tool to aid the surgeon,” Dr. Miller says. “The surgeon is still performing the procedure, but the computerized device allows us to work more precisely, with improved visualization, compared to the open, standard prostatectomy.”  Dr. Walsh adds, “The robotic-assisted prostatectomy lessens blood loss and trauma on vital structures, which means patients can return to normal erectile function and urinate without a catheter quicker than with the conventional procedure.”

What was Charles so eager to get back to after his quick recovery? “Well, for one thing, I’ve been attempting to play golf for about 35 years!” jokes Charles. “I was glad to get back to the game.”

RELIEVING DOUBT: robotic-assisted hysterectomy exceeds expectations

Barb Pelkey had been having gynecological health problems for about a year before she experienced the sudden drop of her uterus. Heather Hilkowitz, MD, obstetrician/gynecologist at Atrium, saw Barb for an emergency visit and told her that she would need a hysterectomy. Dr. Hilkowitz explained all of Barb’s options, including the advantages of having robotic-assisted surgery.

“I was doubtful,” says Barb. “I had a hard time believing that patients didn’t experience much pain after a major surgery.” But a traditional hysterectomy would require more recovery time.

Barb Pelkey
Barb Pelkey reported no pain after her robotic-assisted hysterectomy. She was quickly back to sewing, gardening and playing with her grandkids.

“This was a good choice for Barb,” says Dr. Hilkowitz. “With this tool, a patient can get back to work sooner with minimal pain.” There is also a decreased risk of incision infection. “That’s especially important for patients with diabetes,” adds Dr. Hilkowitz. “Rather than one large incision, the patient has five small incisions.”

Juan Reina, MD, obstetrician/gynecologist at Atrium, teams up with Dr. Hilkowitz for each robotic-assisted gynecological surgery. “Although the procedures sometimes take longer with the robot, we see great results immediately when our patients have very little pain,” says Dr. Reina. “Recovery in the hospital is reduced to about 20 hours versus two to three days with an open hysterectomy.”

Additional advantages of the robot are that its tools are small and very versatile. The da Vinci tools actually mimic the physicians’ hand movements, so they can be maneuvered more easily inside the patient than the physicians’ own hands.

“Most patients don’t have to think too much to choose the option that results in less pain and a reduced hospital stay,” says Dr. Reina. Barb’s choice was to go robotic.

Barb came to Atrium for surgery on a Thursday morning at 5:30 a.m., had surgery at 7:30 a.m. and was home by 10 a.m. on Friday. “I’m here to tell you there was no pain,” says Barb. “None. And I went home without a catheter.”

Two weeks after her hysterectomy, Barb was out walking and doing light gardening. She still couldn’t lift more than five pounds, but Gary, her husband, provided her with great support. “The pain and excess bleeding I was experiencing before the surgery were making me so tired,” Barb says. “Since the surgery, I have to say my attitude has improved because I feel so much better.”

Barb is already playing putt-putt with her grandchildren and is taking them to the batting cages.

“I think women should be aware of this new technology,” adds Dr. Reina, “because the trend for the future will be to use robotic-assisted surgery when appropriate.”

Learn more about the benefits of robotic-assisted surgery at Atrium.