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New robotic technology removes diseased gallbladders through belly button

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Posted: Saturday, November 30, 2013 12:00 am

Over the last several years, John Picone had been experiencing bouts of heavy chest pain shortly after eating. He figured it was spicy food or something that didn’t agree with his system.

It happened more than half a dozen times, but he admits he didn’t think much about it.

Then one day last summer on his way to the bank, he said he experienced the same pain along with sweating so profusely his shirt was sticking to his skin. The 61-year-old thought he was has having a heart attack.

He turned the car around and went home, and his wife took him to the Lodi Memorial Hospital emergency room.

Diagnosis? A gall stone the size of a golf ball.

Treatment? Gallbladder removal through his belly button using a robotic surgery system.

Lodi Health’s Dr. Tom Fahey is the only local surgeon trained and experienced in single-site, robotic-assisted gallbladder surgery. The closest surgeons performing the same procedure are in Modesto and Sacramento.

He began using the robotic da Vinci Surgical System about a year ago, and since then has removed 59 gallbladders, as of Tuesday.

To do so, the doctor slips all of the surgical instruments into the patient’s body through the natural hole of the belly button, which allows the gallbladder to be removed the same way after it is cauterized and snipped into pieces.

That means no scar, no bleeding, no pain and little to no loss of work. Recovery from the traditional gallbaldder removal procedure took up to two weeks on average.

Fahey says he prefers using the new technology, and surgeries are typically faster.

“I can see better, and improved visualization means a better chance of something not going wrong,” he said.

The new single-port robotic surgery procedure is different than one that went online last year at Lodi Memorial Hospital. While it also uses the da Vinci Surgical System, that procedure requires several incisions across the abdomen to allow a surgeon to slip tools into the body.

Fahey has primarily been using the single-port technique for gallbladders, although a few hysterectomies have also been performed this way.

“This is definitely the future of surgery. There’s really no reason not to do it this way,” he said. “Pretty much everything will be single-site in the future.”

Fahey scheduled Picone’s surgery within a couple of days of his ER visit.

“I remember going into the hospital about 8:30 in the morning, and was out of the hospital about 12:30,” Picone said. “There were no issues, no pain. There was a little discomfort in my belly button where they did the insertion, but I was back at work on Friday and a week and a half later played in a softball tournament.”

To this day, Picone said he hasn’t experienced any side effects or pain.

Fahey said he hasn’t heard of anyone not liking the ease of single-port surgery. He doesn’t put restrictions on patients, instead letting them choose when to be active again.

Gallbladder issues are apparently hereditary; Picone’s mother had hers removed in the 1960s where she was hospitalized for two weeks. When his father’s came out a couple of years ago, he spent a night in hospital and recovery took about two weeks.

“With me, I’m in and out of surgery in three hours,” Picone said.

Because his wife works at Lodi Memorial Hospital, he was familiar with the da Vinci system, so he wasn’t surprised when Fahey recommended using it to remove his gallbladder.

“This process worked very well for me. The recovery period was so quick, and I was back at work and playing ball a week and a half later,” Picone said. “I’m minus a gallbladder and no pain.”

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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