The Life-Saving Da Vinci Robot: A Cancer Patient's Story

Category Engineering

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Glenn Deir was faced with inoperable cancer in his left tonsil and resorted to getting a robot named Da Vinci operating on him as no doctor was willing to do it. Despite the complications the robot proved successful and Deir is now recovering. He extended a special thank you to the robot.

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Robots are increasingly showing up in operating rooms and they are saving lives. As one patient in Canada reports in a CBC article, the famous Da Vinci surgical robot operated on his tumor when no doctor would.

Glenn Deir recounts the story of how his inoperable tumor nearly cost him his life and thanks the robot that saved him.

A complicated history .

"Sixteen years ago, I contracted cancer in the left tonsil thanks to the human papillomavirus. That's the same virus that causes cervical cancer. Most folks shed the HPV virus with no harm done, but I had crappy luck. The subsequent radiation had me retching into a toilet for weeks. I turned into an advocate for the HPV vaccine," says Deir in the CBC op-ed, recounting his medical history.

The Da Vinci robot was first sold in 1999

But no doctor was willing to operate on Deir, making his tragic situation even worse. That’s when one of his physician’s suggested getting in touch with a medical professional that used the Da Vinci robot. That doctor was in another province but for Deir it was worth the travel burden and costs.

"Given removing the cancer involved delicate cutting of the tonsil, tongue and throat, Dr. Lee offered to refer me to a surgeon in Halifax who used a robot named Da Vinci. There is no Da Vinci in Newfoundland and Labrador. It's an expensive piece of equipment. Halifax's cost just over $8 million," explained Deir.

The Da Vinci robot model is called S and Xi

Deir, running out of options, agreed to the robotic operation. But even with Da Vinci’s assistance it proved to be an arduously complicated task.

"The operation took 2½ hours. It was more complicated than Dr. Corsten anticipated. The previous radiation had made the tonsil stiff; it didn't pull away easily. The tumor on my tongue was the size of a large cherry. He also had to rotate a muscle to close a gap in my throat. I woke up with a feeding tube up my nose and an incision that ran the full length of my neck. I was a cross between the Elephant Man and Frankenstein," wrote Deir.

The robot is used for minimally invasive surgery

A successful surgery .

Despite the complications, Deir’s surgery proved successful. He is now starting to recover and learning to speak and swallow again. He has a long way to go but he is aware that without Da Vinci his case would have been far worse.

"When I asked Dr. Corsten what the surgery would have looked like without Da Vinci he replied, "In the good old days, we would have cut your jaw in two." That's how they got their access. The image of my jaw being split like a turkey wishbone was deeply unsettling. Radiation treatment has made even a simple tooth extraction impossible. The jaw won't heal properly. Without Da Vinci, I had no surgical option," reported Deir.

The robot can display 3D HD vision, flag complex movements, eliminate tremors and fatigue, and locate and identify small anatomies

He extended a special thank you to the robot.

In the past few years, robots have made great strides in operating rooms, allowing cancer patients to heal faster, curing endometriosis, making remote eye surgery possible and even introducing four-arm laparoscopies. Indeed, when it comes to surgeries the future is robotic.

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