Robotic surgery offers safer, less invasive procedures

Published 12:17 am Sunday, November 6, 2011

BEN HILLYER | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT The da Vinci surgical system robot at Natchez Community Hospital is a $1.6 million piece of equipment that can perform all levels of surgery through tiny incisions, decreasing the recovery time, pain and scars.

NATCHEZ — Dr. Frank Guedon, a Natchez obstetrician and gynecologist, never thought his old Atari video game skills would benefit him in the operating room.

A new da Vinci surgical system robot at Natchez Community Hospital has the high-tech controls of a gaming console that allow surgeons to perform big surgeries on a small scale — which means game-over for long recoveries, pain, scars, bleeding and infection.

“I always loved video games,” Guedon said. “It’s the same type of finesse on the robot.”

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Until very recently, options for a surgical patient included traditional surgery with a large open incision or laparoscopy, which uses small incisions but is typically limited to very simple procedures. The robot facilitates an effective, minimally invasive alternative to both open surgery and laparoscopy. Guedon said he and two other local doctors are now able to offer a minimally invasive option for complex surgical procedures.

Dr. Frank Guedon sits at the control console, that magnifies the procedure and gives tight precision to the surgeon.

The da Vinci is big, unlike gaming consoles, and Guedon said the door to the operating room had to be adjusted just to accommodate the robot. The physician sits at the console and peers through two magnified lenses. The doctor then uses a myriad of controls, from the feet to the thumbs, to operate tiny, free-rotating pinchers that actually perform the surgery several feet away.

But skeptics who might blow off the da Vinci as just “another toy” should ask patients about who really wins.

Guedon said he performed two surgeries with the da Vinci last week, and both patients were back at home after an overnight observation stay at the hospital. He said one patient didn’t even fill her prescription for Vicodin.

For a typical hysterectomy, physicians would open the patient’s abdomen to free the uterus. The da Vinci can perform the same surgery through three tiny incisions, one through the belly button, and cut the organ out with incredible precision.

“It’s so comfortable,” Guedon said. “There is so much more control. And it’s good for older doctors, because it takes any tremor out of your hand.”

Guedon said preferred presets can also be saved in the robot, so different physicians can log on and the console resets itself to comfortably fit the surgeon.

Besides hysterectomies, Guedon said the da Vinci is used in 90 percent of radical prostate procedures, and also open-heart surgeries, bowel resectioning and more.

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Dr. Frank Guedon uses his finger to leave highlight marks on monitors in the operating room, which can be useful to his surgical team in detailing procedures.

“The precision it gives you is a big advantage,” Guedon said. “They call it ‘intuitive,’ and it really is.”

Guedon said Natchez Community Hopsital has the only da Vinci surgical system in the area, with the closest being in Baton Rouge and Jackson.

To use the $1.6 million robot, Guedon and his surgical team traveled for training. The robot is equipped with simulators for practice. Practice scores are recorded, and must be near-perfect to use the robot. Proctors also supervise physicians in using the da Vinci.

Guedon said soon all hospitals will have DaVinci robots as their main surgical tools.

“You can be stubborn and not use the new technology,” Guedon said. “But you have to do it — or you will be put out of business. It’s hard to convince (doctors) that the technology is superior until you get your own hands on it.”

Guedon’s nursing and technology staff at the hospital said they were a little intimidated by the robot, with its $50,000 scope and high tech interchangeable parts.

“When it was first set up, it was overwhelming at first,” said Amy Dunaway, head nurse. “But once you are competent using it, it’s awesome.”

Guedon said the replacement of traditional surgical tools with the robot is a leap into the 21st Century.

“It was like going from a stove to a microwave oven,” Guedon said. “The future — you’re looking at it right here.”

Guedon said the da Vinci doesn’t necessarily help speed up surgery time. And for patients with morbid obesity, Guedon said da Vinci surgery is a much safer.

“This isn’t your mother’s hysterectomy,” said Kim Johnese, RN.