The Rise of Robotics in Colon Surgery: January 8, 2013

When Esther Frankenberger experienced heavy bleeding, she knew it was worse than hemorrhoids.

“Right after I had the colonoscopy the doctor had come to me and told me that I had rectal cancer. And that there was a tumor there in the rectum,” says Esther Frankenberger.

That’s a lot to digest isn’t it?

“I was not surprised, I was prepared for it mentally,” says Frankenberger.

The cancer was stage 3. So there was no time to waste.

“In her case it was invading the sphincter, so that cannot be saved,” says Dr. Janette Gaw, colorectal surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

Frankenberger went on chemo and radiation to shrink the rumor before removing the rectum. It’s often performed laparoscopically- but Frankenberger provided an opportunity to use the daVinci robot.

“The new tool that we have now is robotic surgery which is kind of laparoscopic surgery except that it is gives you more degrees of freedom,” says Dr. Gaw.

“The first thing is you get the 3 dimensional vision which you have to see it to believe it. You get a very good depth perception. The other thing is, when you’re working with your hands it’s more intuitive,” says Dr. Nagesh Ravipati, colorectal surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

With several arms, magnified views and a joystick that offers seven ranges of movement, surgeons can precisely dissect and extract tissue. The procedure is less traumatizing to the body.

“They seem to recover quicker and in one or two cases, they don’t even need any pain medication after the surgery. So it does seem to work better,” says Dr. Ravipati.

But it’s not for everyone. Colon surgery can take doctors around the abdomen- the robot is best used when the equipment stays in one spot.

“In case of Esther it’s appropriate also because hers was in the rectum. You bring the robot in, you park it and you just start dissecting the pelvic. Robot is very good for tiny places,” says Dr. Gaw.

After all she’d been through, surgery was the easiest part for Frankenberger.

“The day after surgery I was up and walking around, feeling quite well. It was amazing,” says Frankenberger.