By Brittany Bernstein and Antonia Brogna
“I would say we do the largest volume of robotic surgery in Suffolk County,” Huntington Hospital’s Director of Robotic Surgery Dr. Ted Goldman said. The majority of these robotic surgeries have been gynecological, but the hospital also uses the robotic systems for thoracic, urogynecological, colorectal and general surgeries. It also recently initiated a urologic oncology program, which caused the push for a second da Vinci system.
The da Vinci robot system, which was released by Intuitive Surgical in 2010, consists of a console and four robotic arms. The surgeon sits at the console, a display shows high resolution, three-dimensional image of the body they are working on. The hand movements that the surgeon makes at the console are mimicked by the robotic arms, which are outfitted with surgical instruments.
This system helps surgeons perform more precise surgeries with a better view of what they’re doing.
“It far exceeds anything out there,” Goldman said. “[It can] zoom into places you ordinarily wouldn’t be able to see as an open or general laproscopic surgeon.”
The biggest draw for patients is that the robot allows surgeons to perform minimally invasive surgeries, which can decrease both the amount of scarring and the chance of infection.
“I had other surgical options which would have been actual surgery to cut me open,” 54-year-old Cali Saketos said. Saketos had robotic surgery in 2008 to remove fibroids that worsened her menstrual cycle. “This option was better for me because I wanted something that was less invasive. They went in through my belly button and through another area in the stomach that yielded a small scar.”
The difference in healing time between robotic and traditional surgeries is hailed as another advantage.
“The healing process went surprisingly quickly,” 71-year-old Bob Beer said. Beer received surgery to remove a potentially cancerous pancreatic cyst in 2010. “Less than two months later I went on a business trip. The traditional surgery would have required at least two weeks in the hospital and then several month recovery at home.”
The da Vinci robot also has its downfalls. In extreme cases, surgeries performed with the da Vinci robot system have also caused injury and even death.
In 2010 Kimberley McCalla passed away due to complications from surgery. The case, McCalla v. Intuitive Surgical, alleges that McCalla’s death was the result of burns caused by an uninsulated robot arm. Intuitive Surgical has since fixed the arms and the amount of serious injuries have subsided.
“We had suits for earlier versions of the da Vinci,” Paul Rheingold, the attorney that represented McCalla in the case, said. “They redesigned it and I haven’t seen any lawsuits or any injuries since then, so it’s way in the past.”
Other cons include the increased length of surgeries because of the machinery and the system’s associated costs.
“There’s a large capital outlay and the maintenance on these systems is very expensive,” Goldman said. These costs also make surgery more expensive for the patients.
“The pros really outweigh the cons for robotic surgery,” Beer’s daughter Karen Bernstein said. “The surgery is longer but it has less risk of infection and a shorter recovery time. It really is amazing.”