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A New Kind of da Vinci Masterpiece 

When cancer showed up in Merna Volenec’s kidney earlier this year, she was faced with two choices: traditional surgery to remove the entire organ, followed by a time-zapping, life-inhibiting dialysis routine in which machines do the blood-cleansing job of kidneys or robot-assisted surgery to remove only the affected portion of the kidney, allowing her own organs to continue to do their work naturally.

The decision was easy. She chose the art of living through the advanced science of surgery with St. Mary’s da Vinci robot.

“If I’d had the traditional surgery, I’d be doing dialysis in four-hour sessions three times a week,” she says. “I’m thankful to still have my freedom for travel and for living my life.”

Example of the Benefits:
Comparison of Surgery Types for Prostate Cancer

  Operative Time (Minutes) Blood Loss (ml) Days with Catheter Days in Hospital
Traditional/Open 164 900 15 3.5
Laparoscopic 248 380 10 1.3
Robotic 160 153 5 1.2

The da Vinci surgical system is breakthrough technology that requires very small incisions through which a high-definition camera and Robot-assisted surgery enhances the art of living tiny surgical instruments enter the body. The surgeon, seated nearby at a console, views the magnified image of the surgical site and uses the robot to maneuver 8 millimeter instruments with precision. Patients experience less pain, fewer medications, shorter hospital stays, faster recovery and smaller scars.

“I’ve had lots of other surgeries,” says Merna, who felt discomfort for just 12 hours after the procedure. “Compared to those, this was a walk in the park.”

Painting the Health Care Landscape
St. Mary’s Hospital has performed robot-assisted surgery for nearly two years, offering it at first only for prostate removal. Now surgeons use the robot to treat a wide range of medical issues, from hysterectomies to removal of malfunctioning glands.

To date, Dean physicians practicing at St. Mary’s are the only ones in Madison who’ve performed surgeries like Merna’s and who have used the robot in these new ways: to treat organ prolapse in women and to cure Cushing’s disease.

Bringing New Hope to Women
Sometimes the only surgical solutions are complex—which makes surgeons and patients alike reluctant to try them. One of these is sacrocolpopexy, a surgical correction of fallen organs (vagina, uterus, bladder or rectum) in the pelvis. Referred to as organ prolapse, this condition often presents a bulging and pressure sensation in women. Further, it can result in a great deal of distress, including urinary incontinence, sexual dysfunction and difficult bowel movements.

Traditional surgical treatment involves a wide cut in the abdominal wall, which is usually associated with increased pain, greater risk and longer recovery time. So, instead of disrupting their lives to correct the problem, patients either select less invasive procedures that may bring other complications and may not be as successful, or they learn to live with it.

“With the robot, we can now treat organ prolapse with a micro-invasive approach— the robotic sacrocolpopexy,” says obstetrician/ gynecologist Bruce Drummond, MD (photo on left). “It provides the highest success rates and avoids the issues associated with a large incision.”

The robot-assisted procedure mimics the more invasive abdominal surgery, he explains, but patients experience much less pain and blood loss and they get back to living their lives sooner. “The results are very similar to the abdominal surgery, yielding long-term success with very few complications. It’s gratifying to offer a better procedure and new option for women.”

Restoring Quality of Life
For other medical situations, surgery is not an option—it’s a necessity. Robin Niederklopfer of
Baraboo knows that all too well. She underwent two separate surgeries trying to cure her

The first surgery occurred a year ago to remove her right adrenal gland as treatment for Cushing’s disease, a debilitating hormone disorder that causes a variety of serious health problems,
including weight gain, weak bones, high blood pressure, depression and severe fatigue. That procedure was performed laparascopically, requiring about the same number and size of incisions as robotic surgery but without the high-definition view of the surgical site.

When it became obvious that the left adrenal gland also must go, urologist David Caropreso,
MD, was among the small handful of physicians nationwide who could remove it using the da Vinci robot. “I chose the robot this time because of better visualization of tissue planes. It resulted in a better surgery with less tissue damage and quicker recovery.”

From the patient’s viewpoint as well, the robot was definitely the way to go. “It was less painful than the laparoscopic surgery the year before,” says Robin. “I was out of bed the same day, moving around, and out of the hospital after just two days.” And what’s more, she is cured.


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