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Breakthrough Robotic Procedure for Colon Surgery

Every time Frank's stomach felt upset, he wondered if he'd end up in the hospital again.

That's because he had acute diverticulitis – a swelling of the large intestine that creates protruding sacs in the intestinal wall. The sacs can become inflamed and bulge outward into the body cavity. Small tears in the colon can develop, causing infection, inflammation and pain.

"The cramping felt like I was being stabbed," Frank says, "A real sharp pain. The first time I had it, I was in the hospital for three days. But the most recent time it happened, I was in for seven days. It was just getting worse and worse."

Frank was frustrated. At just 31 years old, he'd spent three years dealing with a progressive condition that was seriously compromising his quality of life. Needing a bowel resection to remove the diseased portion of his colon, he was facing serious abdominal surgery.

That was when Alvaro Garcia, MD, colorectal surgeon at the Robotic Institute of South Florida at Memorial Hospital Pembroke, told him he could have it done robotically.

Robotic Surgery Offers Many Benefits

Unlike traditional colorectal surgery, with robotics, a physician does not "open up" the patient through a large, scarring incision. Instead, instruments are inserted into the patient through small openings in the skin. Viewing the colon on a 3-D, high-definition screen, the surgeon performs the resection by controlling the instruments, which are designed to respond precisely to the doctor's commands.

"Although a lot of people just live with it, diverticulitis is something that really should be surgically corrected," Dr. Garcia says. "The question is not whether you fix it but, rather, when and how. Robotic colorectal surgery is not yet common, but Frank was a good candidate for it."

"Dr. Garcia told me that my robotic surgery would be less invasive, with less pain and a faster recovery," Frank said. "I was sold."

According to Dr. Garcia, colorectal surgery is one of the latest breakthroughs in robotics, the next step up from laparoscopic procedures. Dr. Garcia performed more than 250 laparoscopic surgeries before bringing his expertise to Memorial Hospital Pembroke when it acquired the robotic equipment. He is the only physician performing robotic colorectal surgery in Broward County.

"I was Dr. Garcia's second colorectal robotic patient – I was Buzz Aldrin," Frank jokes. "I had a lot of confidence going into it, but my wife needed some convincing. Dr. Garcia met with us and told her that robotic technology would help him to do a better job on my colon and that it would improve my recovery. Now that things have turned out so well, she's a total convert."

Compassionate, High-Tech Care

Three days after his robotic bowel resection, Frank was ready to leave the hospital. In a couple of weeks, he was able to enjoy a visit to the pool. Three weeks after surgery, he went back to work. And best of all, he can eat without the constant worry that his colon will send him back to the emergency room. It's a tremendous relief.

"I got the best treatment from the best hospital around," Frank says. "At Memorial, they really care about you."

While colorectal robotic surgery is still new, the principles of quality, compassionate care remain the same, Dr. Garcia says. "Your robotic surgeon has new capabilities and skills that are likely to help improve patients' recovery from surgery while maintaining the principles of traditional surgery," he says. "Whichever way we perform your surgery – robotic, laparoscopic or open – safety is paramount, with the goal of a good outcome."


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