Robot Assists AGH Surgeon During Kidney Transplant

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A living donor had his kidney removed, but what held the scalpel was not alive.

In fact, it was a robot operated by a surgeon.

The 66-year-old donor was the first in the region to have the procedure done this way. His tall frame, uncomplicated anatomy and attitude made him ideal.

“Exactly as it should be in the textbook. It made him a good candidate,” says Dr. Kusum Tom, the lead surgeon on the case at Allegheny General Hospital.

“He was enthusiastic about it. He really never questioned, never had any hesitation. We had more hesitation than he did,” admits Dr. Ngoc Thai, the director of AGH’s Center for Abdominal Transplantation.

After two years of preparing, watching and practicing, AGH became the third center in the country to adopt this technique. The others are in New Jersey and Chicago.

“They’ve done somewhere between 100 and 200 of these donor nephrectomies with very good outcomes,” says Dr. Thai. “This is our first.”

Doctors control the robot from a console several feet away from the operating table using high-resolution cameras and instruments inserted through a three-inch incision in the abdomen.

The hardest part is controlling the instruments. It is a lot like driving a stick shift.

“Foot pedals and clutching, making sure you know where you are, moving the camera,” says Dr. Tom.

As opposed to the typical three to four day stay, the donor , who wishes to stay anonymous, went home the day after surgery.

His kidney was flown to New York where a 65-year-old man received it, and it’s functioning well.

Right now, the robot and extra time make this approach more expensive, but Dr. Thai expects this will eventually change.

He also predicts that someday, doctors might be able to do this kind of surgery from hundreds of miles away though surgeons will always need to be on hand in case an operation has to go to an open technique.

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