Precision surgery via robot | Chris O'Brien Lifehouse
 In Lifehouse News, Science News

Minimally-invasive robotic surgery has been transforming surgical outcomes for our patients since 2015 when, with the incredible support of our donor community, we purchased the da Vinci Xi Surgical System.

This state-of-the-art surgical robot allows minimally-invasive alternatives to complex, open surgeries. Procedures are conducted through tiny incisions with delicate, precise instruments, meaning a faster, less painful recovery for the patient, and less post-operative complications.

The da Vinci robot consists of four robotic arms – three for holding surgical instruments and one for the system’s 3D cameras. During a robotic surgery, the surgeon sits in the tower and controls the arms using master controls and a foot switch.  At the end of each arm, precise wristed instruments (EndoWrists) move intuitively under the surgeon’s direction, like an extension of their fingers. However, the EndoWrist’s range of motion is far greater than that of the human hand and exerts far less force on the patient.

Prof Trevor Tejada-Burges driving the robot

“With robotic surgery, we’re talking about four, maybe five, one-centimetre incisions as opposed to one large incision,” explains Professor Trevor Tejada-Berges, a gynae-oncologist and robotic surgeon at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse.

“This means the patient is up and out of bed earlier, taking less narcotics with a lot less pain. Most patients with an open procedure will be in hospital two, three, four days, depending on the patient, and we usually estimate it takes about six to eight weeks to really feel like their energy is back, to be off all pain medications. With the robot, we can shorten that down to usually one night in hospital, and usually within two to three weeks most people are feeling really quite well.”

Stephen Finn awaiting robotic surgery

Stephen Finn, a retired primary school teacher, was the first to attest to the benefits of robotic surgery in 2015. Stephen was diagnosed with tongue cancer, which would normally require a radical operation to cut open his jaw to reach the tumour. Operating the robot’s dual console, head and neck surgeons Associate Professor Carsten Palme and Professor Jonathan Clark AM entirely removed the tumour through the mouth, reducing a 10-to-12-hour procedure to just 90 minutes. Stephen left hospital and returned to normal life and his family just 10 days after his operation.  

“I’ll take this lucky break I’ve been given and enjoy it with my wife of 41 years,” Stephen said following his surgery.

Since Stephen’s lucky break, the da Vinci Xi robot has performed over 800 surgeries, and 27 surgeons across seven surgical specialities are now trained to use it. The robot is still most commonly used to treat urological, gynaecological and head and neck cancers. However since 2017, we have started treating thoracic, upper GI and colorectal cancers with robotic surgery. In September last year, we performed the first ever minimally invasive robotic surgery for breast cancer.

Each month, the robot continues to drastically improve outcomes for many patients. We thank the incredible generosity of our donors for enabling us to have this advanced technology, which translates to the improved physical and psychological wellbeing of our patients, and a better quality of life post-surgery.

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