TOMS RIVER, JUNE 14, 2010 – When Shelly Morgan, 49, of Little Egg Harbor, learned that she would need a hysterectomy – surgery to remove her uterus – she was understandably distressed. After months of pain and persistent bleeding, Morgan was diagnosed with uterine fibroids, non-cancerous growths of her uterus, and surgery, according to her doctor, was the answer.
This outgoing, health-savvy IT manager for the Ocean County Health Department, inquired about minimally invasive options, but was discouraged to learn that because her fibroids were large, one the size of a grapefruit, traditional abdominal surgery was most likely her only option.
“I knew the length of recuperation involved, and the level of intense pain. I understood full well what I was in for, and I was not happy,” recounts Morgan. Dreading the prospect of abdominal surgery, Morgan brought her computer skills into play, and began to research her options and the possibility of robotic surgery – a new technology she’d seen touted on The Doctor Oz television show.
“I thought that if I was even a candidate, at the very least I would have to go out of the area to Philadelphia, or even further, for this kind of advanced technology,” she says. What she found was a pleasant surprise. The cutting edge robotic technology was available in Toms River at Community Medical Center.
Doctors at Community Medical Center pioneered the use of the da Vinci Robotic Surgical System in 2007. Since that time, they have been utilizing this highly sophisticated technology to perform quicker, safer, and more precise surgeries on patients with gynecological and urological conditions. There are currently only 850 or so da Vinci Surgical Systems operational worldwide; the fact that Community Medical Center in Toms River has one of them is quite remarkable, and shows their commitment to adopting state-of-the-art technology. Community Medical Center, an affiliate of the Saint Barnabas Health Care System, is the only hospital in Ocean County to offer this state-of-the-art technology, and one of only a few in the state of New Jersey.
In the hands of skilled robotic surgeons like John Sutherland, MD, FACOG, FACS, Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Community Medical Center and a Board Certified physician at North Dover Ob/Gyn Associates, the technology is not only remarkable, but it’s revolutionizing surgery – and for patients like Shelly Morgan, offering a whole new option in minimally invasive surgery.
“While minimally invasive options are available for hysterectomy, many physicians routinely recommend traditional, open abdominal surgery,” says Dr. Sutherland, “particularly if the uterus is enlarged because of a large fibroid – as it was in Shelly Morgan’s case for example – or if a woman has internal scarring from prior surgery, or other conditions such as endometriosis.”
In fact, of the approximately 650,000 hysterectomies performed in the United States every year, the majority are performed via open abdominal surgery. The procedure requires a large incision and is generally quite painful, involving heavy pain medications, a risk of infection, and significant blood loss. After surgery, a lengthy recuperation – anywhere from four to 12 weeks is typically necessary. In addition, Dr. Sutherland admits, many patients are unhappy with the scar and weak abdominal muscles left by the incision.
“While a traditional hysterectomy is a relatively safe procedure, it is not always appropriate or necessary for all women or conditions,” he notes. Shelly Morgan was a case in point.
For Morgan – and patients like her at Community Medical Center – robotics is providing a new life changing option. Morgan set up an appointment for a second opinion with Dr. Sutherland in his Toms River office. After her exam and a careful review of her case, Dr. Sutherland determined that she was, in fact, a good candidate for robotic surgery.
Morgan underwent a total hysterectomy last March at Community Medical Center. Dr. Sutherland performed the procedure using the minimally-invasive da Vinci Robotic System – and Morgan couldn’t be happier.
Robotics is similar to laparoscopic surgery in that both involve operating through five or six tiny incisions approximately a half-inch in size, but technologically speaking, that is where the similarities end. “Robotics offers amazing three-dimensional visualization, better instrument control and an incredible level of dexterity and precision that’s just not achievable with laparoscopic surgery,” says Dr. Sutherland.
In robotic surgery, trocars or small tubes are placed within the incisions to house the surgical equipment. One includes a small HD camera that allows surgeons to visualize the surgical site in high resolution, ten times its actual size. Other tubes hold robotic surgical instruments for grasping, cutting and cauterizing – each one smaller than the size of a pen.
After the initial incisions are made and the robotic arms are put into place, the surgeon moves several feet away from the patient to sit at the da Vinci robotic console. A specially trained team of surgical nurses remains at the bedside and changes out surgical instruments, as they are needed.
At the console, the surgeon looks into the viewfinder and places his hands on controls that resemble videogame joysticks. The surgeon is literally immersed in the surgical site, allowing visualization in a way he or she has never seen before. The surgeon’s hand movements are translated into precise micro-movements of the instruments. Equipped with tiny wrist-like joints, the surgical instruments are so sophisticated that they enable the surgeon to operate beyond the capabilities of the human hand – and facilitate the most exacting surgical maneuvers possible. After the surgery is complete, the trocars are removed and the tiny incisions are sutured, leaving minimal scarring.
“The level of magnification and the capabilities of the instrumentation are just phenomenal in terms of enhancing the level of surgical precision, and the controlled dissection around even the smallest arteries, veins and nerves. The mechanics of the robot eliminates even the slightest tremor,” says Dr. Sutherland who has done more than 100 robotic surgical procedures on patients and now proctors other surgeons at the hospital on the use of the da Vinci robotic system.
The system is being used to treat increasingly complex gynecological and urological conditions at Community Medical Center, offering a minimally invasive option for a host of complex surgical procedures on women and men alike.
“Patients experience minimal blood loss, fewer complications, shorter hospital stays and better outcomes. They also have significantly less post operative pain, faster recuperation and are simply thrilled with the results,” says Dr. Sutherland.
Shelly Morgan concurs. “I had surgery on Wednesday, was home on Thursday and by Monday I was back at work. While I was tired, I experienced very little pain and had to continually remind myself that I’d undergone major surgery and needed to take my doctor’s advice and take it easy. The recuperation time was just incredible,” she adds. “Dr. Sutherland was amazing and the care I received in Community Medical Center’s Women’s Health Center was just wonderful.”
“This is truly a technological leap forward in terms of our ability to take care of our patients,” says Dr. Sutherland. “It’s a technology that is revolutionizing the level of gynecologic surgery and the level of care we’re able to provide for women.”
“I’m healthier and happier than ever,” says Morgan, who no longer has to worry about disabling symptoms impacting the quality of her life. “I’ve regained my energy. I’m exercising again. I feel like I’ve gained back ten years of my life since I had this surgery. Honestly, I have my health and my life back and I have Dr. Sutherland and his team, and this amazing technology to thank for that.”
If you need surgery, find out if you could be a candidate for a minimally invasive alternative utilizing the da Vinci Robotic Surgical System. To contact Dr. John Sutherland at North Dover Ob/Gyn Associates, call 732-914-1919. For more information about robotic surgery available at Community Medical Center, or to find a trained robotic surgeon on their staff, please call 1-888-724-7123 or log on to their website at www.barnabashealth.org.
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