Easing the Pain with Single-Site Robotic Surgery

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Officials at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, an affiliate of Commonwealth Health, say they've recently celebrated a first: a single-site surgery to remove a gallbladder with a robotic surgical system.  

Hazel Stockton of Edwardsville was the patient, just six weeks ago.  She says she had long been suffering from digestive issues, often feeling sick or in pain.  She described one particularly difficult night.

"It took me a long time to go to sleep. I had to put a heating pad on my back and stomach.  It was like nothing I've ever felt before," said Stockton.

She eventually learned an enlarged gallbladder was to blame, and it had to come out.  Her doctor, Dr. Clark Gerhart, suggested a surgery that hadn't been done before then at Wilkes-Barre General, that has only now been done about a dozen times at the hospital.  That surgery was a single-site gallbladder removal using a robotic surgical system known as DaVinci.

In the past, said Dr. Gerhart, a surgical team would have to make several small incisions to get to the gallbladder.  But easy movement, once inside the body, was a problem. 

"(Laparoscopic surgery) meant we could do a lot, but we were limited.  Our wrists were taken away.  The robot gives us that back," said Dr. Gerhart, a laparoscopic robotic surgeon.

Another big plus, according to Dr. Gerhart, is being able to see what he's doing in 3D.

"The robotic instruments go inside and allow us to operate with a number of robotic hands, using one tiny hole.  Less than an inch," he said.  Fewer, more precise cuts mean less pain and a shorter recovery time.

Hazel Stockton had a few days of discomfort, but says even right after the surgery, she was amazed at how quickly she felt much better.

"I was getting up, sitting in a chair- they fed me dinner- I ate everything!  Hours later.  If I could kiss him, I would!" she laughed.

Right now, the single-site procedure has only been approved for use in gallbladder surgeries, but Dr. Gerhart hopes to begin research to explore uses in other types of surgeries as well.