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Northwestern Memorial Performs Chicago's First Chest Excision Using Surgical Robot

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January 22, 2007

Chicago -

Procedure lasted 38 minutes, patient operated on and released in less than 24 hours 

When Northwestern Memorial Hospital doctors discovered a benign tumor beneath the sternum, or breast bone, of Chicago resident Gloria Wolfson, Thoracic Surgeon Alberto de Hoyos explained to her that he needed to go deep into her chest to remove it.  In Wolfson’s case, however, it would not be the surgeon’s hands, but the mechanical arms of a robotic surgical device, that would ultimately perform this delicate removal.  If this were just several years prior, Wolfson may have faced having to have either a sternotomy, a surgery that calls for cracking the chest bone vertically down the middle or a procedure known as a transcervical, which calls for a 4-6 inch incision along the neck.  While both the sternotomy and transcervical remain very safe, routine procedures, having one or the other was likely to leave Wolfson, 59, with inches of permanent scarring and either would have required two-to-three days of hospitalization followed by a 4-6 week recovery with several restrictions on physical activities, including no driving.  Instead on Thursday morning, less than 20 hours after de Hoyos had removed the benign tumor from her thymus gland, a very spry, energetic and beaming Wolfson went home.

“Look at me doctor; I’m going home,” said Wolfson, who co-owns a bead store in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood. “Can you believe that I just had chest surgery on yesterday? I feel great.”

Wolfson was the city’s first patient to undergo this surgery formally called a robotic thymectomy. de Hoyos estimates that most patients with Wolfson’s parathyroid condition are likely candidates for this minimally invasive procedure, which called for three, one-centimeter incisions around the left breast.  The incisions allowed for the insertion of three robotic arms; one for the camera that displays the location of the operation and two arms equipped with surgical instruments. (Some procedures call for the use of a fourth arm.)  To operate on Wolfson, de Hoyos sat in a control seat about six feet away from where she laid on the surgical table.  Not including prep time, the surgery lasted all of 38 minutes. 

“One of the greatest benefits for patients is the recovery time,” said de Hoyos who specializes in minimally invasive surgical procedures. “Many patients can go home the very same day and resume their normal activities within days.”

Northwestern Memorial is among several city hospitals actively using this robotic surgical device. However de Hoyos is one of a very select few Chicago-based thoracic surgeons who are trained to use the robot for thoracic procedures.  Other surgical applications for the robot include certain surgeries for the prostate gland, lung resections and some cardiac procedures to list a few.

Last UpdateFebruary 8, 2011