An Illawarra man has undergone surgery at the ‘hands’ of one of the world’s most advanced robots for the first time in the region.
Marketed as the ‘next frontier for minimally invasive surgery’, the da Vinci Xi Surgical System has now joined the surgical team at Wollongong Private Hospital.
The Illawarra Mercury was given exclusive access to the first surgery conducted using the state-of-the art technology on Thursday.
Wollongong Private is among 10 hospitals in NSW – and the first on the South Coast – that have invested in the latest Xi model, which has enhanced features that take surgery beyond the limits of the human hand.
However, contrary to science fiction, the $3 million system cannot operate solo – it requires the direction of a highly skilled surgeon; in this case urologist Associate Professor Peter Chin.
“The robot is a tool. It’s still driven by the surgeon who sits at a console and controls each of the four arms – and that includes a camera and three instruments that help you to operate,” he said.
“There’s several advantages to robotics compared to traditional open surgery. As a surgeon, you get amazing vision as you’re able to see the procedure in 3D and it’s about 10 times magnified.
“This helps you get close to blood vessels, nerves and tissue that you need to affect, and allows you to have much more precision.”
Because the system allows surgeons to perform urology, gynaecology, cardiac and general procedures through a few small incisions – there’s many benefits for patients.
“There’s far less blood loss – in a normal procedure there’s an average loss of 400 to 500ml of blood; robotically you lose 30 to 50mls,” Prof Chin said.
“Because surgeons can see the nerves better, and so are able to preserve them, we are able to improve the potency afterwards. This means that instead of a week in hospital, it’s now mostly an overnight stay.
“Meantime the wounds are much smaller – just a little stab wound as opposed to a big incision so there’s also minimal pain.”
During the operation, the surgeon sits in an ergonomically designed console, while the patient is positioned in a side cart a little distance away. The surgeon’s own hand movements are filtered through to the four robotic arms, which translate them into precise, unwavering movements inside the patient’s body.
On Thursday, the procedure was a prostatectomy – one of the most common treatments for prostate cancer and traditionally requiring a large incision – not the tiny incision made by the da Vinci robot.
It’s the first of an expected 300 to 400 surgeries to be conducted by the new system at Wollongong Private each year.
Already home to the Mazor robot for spinal surgery and the Navio system for orthopaedic surgery, the hospital’s CEO David Crowe said it was about providing cutting-edge technology to the Illawarra.
“It’s about keeping us at the forefront of technology and ensuring our patients don’t have to travel to Sydney to have robotic surgery,” he said.
“It’s everything we’ve been striving for since opening Wollongong Private – to provide our patients with state-of-the-art technology.”
Prof Chin has performed and been involved in more than 140 robotic procedures using the da Vinci system at other hospitals, and was the driving force in getting it to Wollongong.
“This technology has changed the way many surgical procedures have been performed in Australia and around the world, and I am very excited that it is now available in Wollongong,” he said.
“There’s a lot of young surgeons in every specialty learning how to do robotics – if we didn’t invest in getting this technology in this region, then we wouldn’t be able to attract the next generation of highly skilled surgeons to this area.”