Robots Perform Surgery at Hartford Hospital

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Advancing medical technology is making surgery much less invasive.  For patients, that means shorter hospital stays and quicker recoveries. 

At Hartford Hospital, a machine called the Da Vinci Robot is making a major difference on that front.

“It's essentially a tool to make advanced and complicated laparoscopic surgery easier,” said Dr. Joseph Wagner, an Urologist Oncologist at Hartford Hospital.

During laparoscopic surgery, doctors operate through a few small holes rather than making a large incision.

“When you do laparoscopic surgery, you have these long sticks and you're operating in these confined areas, but the problem with those instruments is they don't have wrists. They just sort of open and close. So, I try to explain to my patients, it's kind of like trying to tie your shoes with some huge pliers,” Wagner said.

The Da Vinci robot does have wrists and tiny tools that allow doctors to work in tight places.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Da Vinci for surgical use in 2001.

Wagner was one of the first physicians in the country to use the robot to perform a prostatectomy.

"So really, in seven years, we went from 0 cases to 60 percent (of) cases in the U.S. being done with the robot," he said.

Fred Speno, of Colchester, was one of those patients. In 2004, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

"It's pretty scary, but I have faith and you just do what you have to do," Speno said.

Speno had several treatment options. He chose the robot.

"The operation, they rolled me in and didn't put me out until I was in the room so I could see the robot and that was pretty impressive actually," Speno said.

It’s also impressive to watch the doctor perform the surgery with the robot. 

He sits across the room from the patient and controls the arms of the machine with joysticks and foot pedals.

Besides making the surgery technically easier for the doctor, the patient loses less blood and has less pain post surgery.

Speno was back to work in about a week.

Now four years later, he's happy to be healthy.

"Feels good actually because it is cancer.  It's not just an operation you need, it's cancer and they were sure they got it all," he said.

Hartford Hospital is one of few facilities to have three Da Vinci robots.  At a price tag of $1.7 million a piece, the machines don't come cheap.

The hospital is using the technology to perform several different types of surgery.

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