Local doctors utilize $1.7M upgraded robotic-assisted surgery system

Steamboat Springs urologist Dr. Clay Pendleton performs robotic-assisted surgery using the upgraded model da Vinci Xi at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center last week.
UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center/Courtesy photo

In 43 years as a registered nurse, Judi Francis has witnessed many changes in medical procedures, but working with the newly upgraded robotic-assisted surgery system at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center was still an exciting “wow” moment for her.

On Oct. 21, surgeons at YVMC started using a da Vinci Xi model robot surgery system. At a cost of $1.7 million, the upgraded surgery robot took the place of the hospital’s previous da Vinci Si, in use since 2014. The robotic-assisted surgery allows more traditional open surgeries to be laparoscopic surgeries, where instruments and a camera are inserted into the patient though cannula tubes that are only 8 millimeters in diameter, said Francis, robotics coordinator at YVMC.

The advantages to these minimally invasive surgeries are numerous. Patients have smaller incisions, decreased bleeding, less time spent under general anesthesia during quicker surgeries, faster post-surgery healing times, less overnight hospital stays and less pain medication, said Francis, a certified operation room nurse. She said the new da Vinci can shorten overall surgery time by 30 minutes per patient.

For surgeons, the robotic camera shows a magnified 3D image. The surgeon sits at a viewing console to the side of the patient on the surgical table and guides the instruments via the console’s hand-operated controls. The robotic arms with various tools are situated over the patient, and operation room staff place the surgical tools in and out of cannulas, or port holes, into the patient’s body.

“It just takes a surgeon’s skill set and takes it to a higher level,” Francis noted.

California-based Intuitive created the da Vinci robotic-assisted surgical system in 1995. According to the company website, “The da Vinci system translates your surgeon’s hand movements at the console in real time, bending and rotating the instruments while performing the procedure. The tiny wristed instruments move like a human hand but with a greater range of motion. The instrument size makes it possible for surgeons to operate through one or a few small incisions.”

This example operating room image provided by da Vinci Systems illustrates how the robotic-assisted surgical system can function.
da Vinci Systems/Courtesy photo

Francis said the new model provides finer control for blood vessel and nerve dissection, and suturing is efficient because the robot’s needle driver can rotate 360 degrees. The surgeons can experience less torquing and less fatigue.

“We’re fortunate to have a talented group of surgeons who utilize robotic-assisted surgery to help improve their patients’ outcomes,” said Soniya Fidler, president of YVMC. “This investment allows us to continue offering the latest technology as it relates to health care. By doing so, we’re able to care for patients close to home while still delivering advanced care that isn’t typically found in communities of our size.”

At YVMC, younger surgeons, such as gynecologist Dr. Jeff Chamberlain and urologist Dr. Clay Pendleton, are leading the trend of gradually increasing robotic surgeries locally. The surgeons are pleased with the new da Vinci model that provides an upgraded and smaller camera with better visualization, automatic calibration, more range in angles and less fogging.

Pendleton and Chamberlain are examples of surgeons who came up in the medical profession learning robotic-assisted surgery, so their experience has increased the number of robotic-assisted urology and gynecology procedures, such as for hysterectomy and prostate cancer. The pair also perform tandem surgeries for hysterectomy, followed by bladder, vaginal or rectal prolapse repair.

Dr. Jeff Chamberlain, with UCHealth Women’s Care Clinics, spent time earlier this month in simulation exercises practicing with food items at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Cetner on the upgraded da Vinci Xi model.
YVMC/Courtesy photo

Other local physicians using the robotic system include gynecologist Dr. Leslie Ahlmeyer and general surgeon Dr. Allen Belshaw, said Lindsey Reznicek, YVMC communications specialist.

With the upgraded robotics, along with the increase in surgeries in general following early COVID-19 pandemic slowdowns, doctors at YVMC this year through the end of September used da Vinci 100 times, including 75 times for gynecology, 22 for urology and three for general surgery, such as ventral hernia repair. That third quarter number surpasses the 99 da Vinci surgeries performed throughout 2020 and 85 in 2019, Reznicek said.

Pendleton, 43, said he has performed robotic-assisted surgeries for about 15 years, performs approximately 100 such procedures each year combined in Steamboat Springs and Vail, and has used the upgraded da Vinci Xi model in Vail for about a year. He uses robotic surgery for 100% of prostate cancer surgeries, and he performs robotic procedures related to kidney cancer, tumors, stones removal and reconstruction. Pendleton said across the medical profession, surgeons are increasingly using robotic surgeries for more gynecological, colorectal, lung and esophageal procedures.

Francis said she is impressed with the improvements in the new robot model.

“What it does is amazing. I am impressed with the fact that the things I struggled with on the previous robotic system were addressed and resolved in a positive way,” Francis said.

The local medical professionals said patients can expect to see continued growth in surgical robotics for minimally invasive surgeries in Steamboat and across the country as more surgeons train and the technology expands mainstream.

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