Diagnosed with coronary artery disease in his late 40s, Ken, now 54, began seeing his cardiologist every year for checkups. In October 2011, Ken told his doctor he was having pain in his rib cage and in both arms--classic symptoms of heart trouble. Ken was taken to El Camino Hospital immediately, and tests revealed a blockage in one of his arteries.
The blockage could not be treated with a simple stent (which is what Ken had in 2004), so the cardiac team called in cardiothoracic surgeon Gan Dunnington, M.D., of the Stanford Cardiothoracic Surgery Program at El Camino Hospital.
Dr. Dunnington explained to Ken that he would need a cardiac bypass. However, instead of cutting the chest open as in a traditional open-heart surgery, Ken could have the surgery through a newer, less invasive technique using the da Vinci robot. In this type of surgery, the surgeon sits at a console, eyes fixed to a video monitor, and uses his fingers to move joysticks that in turn move the robot's arms. Each robotic arm has surgical instruments attached to it that perform the surgical bypass, putting a new artery where the blocked artery once was and allowing blood to flow smoothly again.
Although Ken was nervous about having the procedure, because it was the first time Dr. Dunnington had done this particular type of bypass using the robot, Ken was excited about the potential advantages. "The big benefit for me was that Dr. Dunnington wouldn't have to open up my chest. Plus, my recovery time would be cut in half," explains Ken. Both Ken's father and brother had traditional open-heart surgery years earlier, so Ken knew how long the recovery period was for that procedure.
Ken's robotic bypass surgery was a success, and, as expected, Ken recovered quickly and returned to his job about four weeks later.
Unfortunately, Ken's health issues weren't over. In April 2012, doctors discovered a tumor in his kidney (detected when Ken found blood in his urine). Urologist Arnold Aigen, M.D. performed surgery to remove his left kidney, also using the robot. Once again, the surgery went well, and Ken does not expect to need any further treatment.
"When I came in for my second robotic surgery, the El Camino Hospital team remembered that I had been there just six months earlier," says Ken. "They told me I was the first patient to have two robotic surgeries at the hospital." And it's possible that Ken is one of just a few patients in the nation who has experienced robotic surgery more than once. Although the da Vinci robot was introduced in 2000, many hospitals do not have surgeons who are fully trained in how to use it, especially for more complex procedures.
As robotic surgery becomes more and more common these days, Ken imagines that there will be other patients like him who will need the operation, so he is happy to share his experience with others. Many thanks to Ken for doing so!