General Surgeon Michelle Eckert has been with Jefferson Regional for 22 years and has performed thousands of operations during that time. Now she has a new partner, of sorts: the daVinci Xi Robot Assisted Surgical System, which was designed to advance minimally-invasive technique across a wide spectrum of surgical procedures.
Dr. Eckert was the first surgeon to utilize the daVinci robot at Jefferson Regional, for a gall bladder removal, although the system can be used to operate on just about any part of the body. “Most patients will have less pain and a shorter length of stay,” Eckert said. “All of my patients have gone home the same day of their procedure, which translates into less cost and a potentially shorter recovery time.”
As more local cases are performed, Dr. Eckert emphasizes the fact that this technology is a tool, not a replacement for the physician. “One common misconception is that the robot is doing the surgery,” Dr. Eckert said. “I am still doing the procedure; I just have the robot helping me. They hold the instruments, but I move the instruments.”
There are three parts to robot-assisted surgery: the robot itself, which is the actual hardware that the instruments go through; a vision cart, which has a larger screen that shows the field of view so everyone in the room can see what’s going on, and the surgeon console, which translates the physician’s movements in real time to the instruments the robot is holding. “I control the instruments,” Eckert says, “and the good thing about that is I have 3D, high-definition pictures that are 10 times magnified, so there’s a different depth of vision than before.” The arms on the daVinci have a greater range of motion than the human wrist, allowing for surgical maneuvers and dexterity that cannot be achieved with traditional hand-held laparoscopic tools. “I can spin and flip the instruments 360 degrees if necessary. And the robot allows the surgeon to be seated during the procedure, which means less visual fatigue and muscle fatigue for the doctor.” All of these advances make the procedure more precise and more accurate, which should translate to fewer complications, less open procedures and better outcomes.
Stephanie Pooree can speak to the effectiveness of the daVinci system first hand. Stephanie is a Senior Mammography Tech at Jefferson Regional, and she was one of the first people to undergo a daVinci procedure at Jefferson Regional on November 18, 2022. “I had known I needed surgery for a while, but I was waiting to fit it into my work schedule,” she said. “When I saw Dr. Eckert to schedule it, she told me I could be one of the first daVinci patients. I was fine with it. I wasn’t nervous at all. I’ve worked with Dr. Eckert for a long time, and I trust her.” Stephanie’s trust paid off. She had her gall bladder out with help from the robot and went home as soon as she came out from under the anesthetic.
“I had no problems at all,” Stephanie says of her procedure. “I felt great after one week, and after two weeks I was back at work.”
So far, Dr Eckert is using the daVinci only for gall bladder and hernia procedures, but she will be adding more types of surgery and more Jefferson Regional physicians are training on the equipment. “When this technology was first introduced, people said it was a gimmick,” Eckert remembered, “but they said that about laparoscopy over 20 years ago, and it revolutionized surgery. This is already doing the same thing.”