Minimum Pain, Maximum Results: The Benefits of Robotic Surgery
A New Jersey man experiences the benefits of robotic surgery to repair his hernia at Good Samaritan Hospital.
By Laurie Yarnell As seen in the September/October 2019 issue of Advancing Care
A fit, physically active 76-year-old widower, Thomas Gordon always has been fascinated by technology and machinery.
Primarily self-taught, the Saddle Brook, NJ, resident is retired from his own company, in which he installed machinery in factories that manufactured iconic snacks such as Oreo cookies, Ritz Crackers and Fig Newtons. The father of four and grandfather of seven, he enjoys working on and remodeling the homes of his children.
In July 2018, he was helping install a new kitchen in the home of his youngest daughter, Kelly. “They were putting countertops in, and they were really heavy,” Gordon recalls. “One was about 5 feet by 10 feet, and I stupidly gave the guys carrying it a little help.”
Gordon felt a burning pain on the left side of his torso and immediately knew there was a problem. After lying down for five minutes, though, it subsided, so he got up and continued working. He ignored the discomfort for a few days before finally realizing that he had to see a doctor. He suspected a hernia – as he had one on his right side in the early 1970s – and mentioned it to his daughter, Sharon.
Daughter Knows Best
Sharon is a nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth) in Suffern, and she recommended that her father see robotic surgeon Paryush Lakhtaria, MD, for an examination. Having recently done research on the da Vinci robotic surgical system, Sharon wanted to explore minimally invasive surgical options for her father. Ironically, months before, Gordon had been fascinated by a robotic surgical equipment demonstration at the Palisades Center mall in nearby West Nyack – that happened to be conducted by Dr. Lakhtaria and robotic surgery team members from Good Samaritan Hospital.
Gordon consulted with Dr. Lakhtaria on July 6, 2018. After a physical exam in which Dr. Lakhtaria examined Gordon’s abdomen and felt the protrusion, he was diagnosed with an inguinal hernia on his left side.
“A hernia is a defect or weakness in the abdominal wall,” explains the doctor. “It can be congenital – present at birth – or caused by lifting a heavy weight or other strenuous activity.” Dr. Lakhtaria recommended that Gordon have robotic surgery to repair the hernia.
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On July 20, Gordon reported to Good Samaritan Hospital at 6 a.m. The 45-minute operation started at 8 a.m., and by noon, he was leaving the hospital. It was a painless experience, he says; he needed no pain medication, and he was able to move right away, walking down a long corridor to exit the hospital.
What Happens During a Robotic Procedure?
After scrubbing in, the surgeon initially makes small incisions in the patient’s abdomen to introduce a three-dimensional camera and robotic instruments. Looking through the camera, the surgical procedure is conducted with robotic instruments that mimic movements of the hand of the surgeon seated at the operating console.
Comparing his two recovery experiences, Gordon noticed a stark difference. “With the previous, traditional, open surgery, I was in more pain, and I couldn’t get up,” he recalls. And, notes Dr. Lakhtaria, many patients have to spend a few nights in the hospital after such a procedure, depending on the size of the hernia. On the other hand, about 90% of robotic-surgery patients go home the same day. “With the robotic surgery, I was back to my usual routine right away,” says Gordon. “When I came home that day, I was in my backyard, sitting around, drinking a Coke, with my feet up on a table.”
The Benefits of Robotic Surgery
Gordon’s experiences with both types of procedures are typical, says Dr. Lakhtaria, who, while trained in open surgery, rarely performs it for hernia repair anymore. In general, the robotic procedure offers greater benefits to the patient and surgeon. Because robotic surgery uses a much smaller incision, the patient experiences less pain. Therefore, there is less need for pain medication, fewer complications, less scar tissue formation and better cosmetic results. There’s also a quicker recovery and return to work and physical activity.
For the surgeon, the major advantage over open surgery is that the robot’s advanced camera system allows a 3-D view, creating more accurate and better visualization for finer dissection. Also, the flexible instruments it uses have a wrist-like motion that mimics the surgeon’s hand movements with remarkable precision.
Gordon doesn’t have to change his active lifestyle in any way, says Dr. Lakhtaria, as the chance of the hernia returning is negligible.
A lifelong fitness enthusiast, Gordon quickly returned to his usual routine, including hour-long workouts and mile-long walks each day. And, he looks forward to working on his grandchildren’s houses.
“I cannot tell you how grateful I am for the skill and care of Dr. Lakhtaria and all of the staff at Good Samaritan Hospital. I was able to return to my normal physical activity very quickly,” says Gordon. “From pre-op, to admissions and nursing, to the operating room and anesthesia and post-op — I couldn’t have been happier with my care.”
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The Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth) is a 1,700-bed healthcare system headquartered in Valhalla, New York, with 10 hospitals on eight campuses spanning 6,200 square miles of the Hudson Valley. WMCHealth employs more than 12,000 people and has nearly 3,000 attending physicians. From Level 1, Level 2 and Pediatric Trauma Centers, the region’s only acute care children’s hospital, an academic medical center, several community hospitals, dozens of specialized institutes and centers, skilled nursing, assisted living facilities, homecare services and one of the largest mental health systems in New York State, today WMCHealth is the pre-eminent provider of integrated healthcare in the Hudson Valley. For more information about WMCHealth, visit WMCHealth.org.