PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Robotic surgery has been used to remove kidneys, do hysterectomies and prostate surgery.
Doctors at Allegheny General Hospital have added another organ – the heart.
Joseph Scolero had congestive heart failure. His heart arteries were blocked.
“[I was] short of breath, tired a lot,” he recalls.
He knew he needed bypass surgery, but having watched his wife’s long recovery after open heart surgery, he was glad to try an alternative.
“When they told me about the new procedure, I said, ‘Go for it, what do I got to lose?’”
Typical bypass surgery involves an incision down the front of the chest, opening the ribcage and using a machine outside the body to pump the blood and give it oxygen so the heart can be still for the operation.
The surgeons restore blood flow to the heart by rerouting other unblocked vessels.
To accomplish the same thing, the doctors offered him a minimally invasive procedure with the help of robots.
With this approach, the heart continues to beat during surgery, so there’s no need for the external heart-lung machine.
It took a year to develop the program, the team and the skills.
For the surgeon, it takes a lot of practice because there is no sense of touch or tension. A more experienced surgeon taught them to use their eyes to feel.
“I know you can’t feel anything, but see the tension that’s on that? You don’t want any more,” says Dr. Walter McGregor, a cardiac surgeon at Allegheny General Hospital, about how they would be instructed.
The ideal patient is someone with blockage of the large artery running down the front of the heart. Fewer than 10 patients have had the robotic procedure since the debut of the program three months ago.
Joe admits he was nervous about being one of the first, but he has no regrets now.
“Got more energy now and my skin color came back,” he says. “I can do more things out in the yard like I used to do years ago.”
The doctors say this technique leads to less scarring, infection, blood loss and a shorter hospital stay.
The longest follow up has been about seven years. So far, results have been similar to traditional open surgery. Insurance is covering this.