When Russ Robinson saw a TV show on robotic-assisted surgery, he never dreamed he’d be a candidate himself one day. Then a routine scan revealed that the 71-year-old semi-retired IT consultant from Signal Hill had a large cancerous tumor in his right kidney.
“When we heard cancer, my wife and I were scared to death,” he says. “We started thinking the worst.”
Fortunately, Russ’ care was in the reliable hands of Jennifer Liu, MD, Diplomate, Board of Urology, urologic surgeon, Long Beach Medical Center. With expertise in treating urologic cancers, urinary incontinence, sexual dysfunction and kidney stones, Dr. Liu is one of the few surgeons in the greater Long Beach area with a fellowship, which involved extensive training in the use of the DaVinci system. It is this advanced and comprehensive training that allows her to perform once-complex open procedures of the kidney utilizing minimally-invasive robotic-assisted technology.
THEN AND NOW
Curing Russ’ cancer meant removing his entire kidney. In the past, Russ would have needed up to a 10- to 20-inch incision in his side or abdomen. He would have faced a five- to seven-day hospital stay, and his muscles would have needed about three months to heal.
“Most kidney cancers are found incidentally at two to four centimeters. Russ’ tumor was 10 centimeters – nearly four inches. Before, for such a large tumor, doctors might even have to break a rib to gain access to his kidney. Times have really changed,” says Dr. Liu. “Robotic-assisted surgery requires smaller incisions than traditional open surgery. The average patient stays in the hospital just two days.”
Long Beach Memorial offers patients minimally-invasive surgical options, including robotic-assisted surgery, for certain procedures involving the kidney, prostate, heart, lung, gallbladder, colon and gynecologic diseases.
Specialty-trained surgeons use robotic-assisted techniques to gently manipulate target organs with unprecedented accuracy. The surgeon sits at a console near the patient and operates by controlling the robot’s four arms. The robotic instruments act as extensions of the surgeon’s own hands, translating every motion into precise
“All tremors are filtered out and there is a wider range of motion than human hands alone,” says Dr. Liu. “For patients like Russ, robotic-assisted surgery resulted in less trauma, less blood loss, less pain, smaller scars and a shorter hospital stay.”
Robotic-assisted technology provides certain additional advantages. Improved optics with up to 10-times the magnification allows surgeons unparalleled vision while dissecting delicate tissue in confined spaces such as the chest, abdomen or pelvis. For Russ, these capabilities helped Dr. Liu with the unexpected.
“Russ had a complex vein structure that made removing his kidney more challenging. Normally, you have one vein and one artery. He had three of each. There also were extra blood vessels feeding the tumor from behind the back of the kidney,” says Dr. Liu.
“I was able to see his entire vasculature in 3-D and high definition so I could maneuver accordingly. In about three hours, we were able to confidently declare Russ cancer-free.”
FEELING LIKE HIMSELF
Russ was walking around, with his wife by his side, the day after surgery. In another 24 hours, he was walking without help, ready to go home. Within a month, he was taking long walks and going to the movies. By the eighth week after surgery, Russ felt back to normal.
Recently, Russ celebrated his first cancer-free birthday the way he always has, cooking chili and gumbo to share with family and friends. He’s back to a vigorous exercise routine of walking for an hour several times a week, alternating with 45-minute elliptical training sessions, and daily stretching.
“I couldn’t believe I was 100 percent again in such a short window of time. I strongly believe my recovery was faster thanks to Dr. Liu, her expertise in robotic-assisted surgery and the care I received at Long Beach Memorial,” says Russ. “If you need surgery, take the time to explore robotic-assisted surgery. You’ll be glad you did.”