Whitby man among the first to have robotic surgery to remove cancerous tumours from his chest


Published June 19, 2023 at 3:57 pm

Joe and his family via Lakeridge Health.

A Whitby man has become one of the first to have two robotic surgeries to remove cancerous tumours, one of which was too close to his heart for a traditional biopsy.

The man, known only as Joe, learned he had Lyme disease last year while dealing with some breathing problems. As his Lakeridge Health medical team investigated his symptoms they discovered two cancerous tumours; one in his belly and the other in his lung.

The lung tumour was too close to Joe’s aorta to risk a tradiotional biopsy. However, his oncologist, Dr. Daniel Sisson at the Oshawa cancer centre, had options. “Sisson told us about a new robotic surgical system at the Hospital that would help him safely diagnose and remove my tumour,” Joe told Lakeridge Health, “He asked if we’d be open to it. We had no questions – we said yes, of course!”

The robotic system is a da Vinci Surgical System, a $2 million surgical tool developed in 2000. Da Vinci units are used in a wide variety of surgeries including prostate and uterus removal, heart valve repair and kidney surgeries. It has three or four arms that can hold objects and act as scalpels, scissors and electrosurgical bovies.

The robot is designed to be minimally invasive and allow the surgery without opening the chest right up. This allows less injury and faster recovery for patients.

On April 18, Joe became one of the first patients to have a da Vinci-assisted surgery on his chest to remove the lung tumour. With the da Vinci, Sisson removed a section of the tumour which was quickly sent off for testing. Within 20 minutes the test came back, and Sisson used the unit to remove the tumour and a section of Joe’s lung.

Joe spent a night in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and was back hiking by the lake within two weeks. Lakeridge called this recovery “miraculous,” but Joe wasn’t out of the woods just yet.

His cancer care team examined the tumour and found Joe’s cancer was more severe than they initially thought. “Sisson told me my case was more complicated than he thought and additional tests had him concerned. I was told I needed to go back into surgery right away and I would need to have the lower lobe of my left lung removed,” Joe told Lakeridge.

Sisson told Joe they would start with the da Vinci, but if the surgery did not go well, they may need to open Joe’s chest for traditional surgery. Joe agreed and Sisson began the surgery along with Dr. Shannon Trainor, an award-winning thoracic surgeon.

The surgery took five hours to complete. However, “Sisson and his skilled team were miraculously able to perform Joe’s entire lobectomy using robotic methods,” the hospital said. Joe was back home after a two-day stay in the ICU.

Sisson described the da Vinci as making him “feel like I’ve been shrunk down inside the body,” per Lakeridge. “Laparoscopic, or the minimally invasive surgery most people have heard of, can feel like you are operating with two long sticks. There isn’t a lot of flexibility. With the robot, I can address complicated areas in ways I couldn’t before and the 3D high-definition camera gives me the best view possible.”

Trainor was “stunned” by the surgery calling it “one of the most remarkable things I have ever been a part of.”

“My recovery is on the same track as before. I am feeling great and I can even go spend the weekend at the cottage. I see the oncologist in a few days to talk about my next step in the journey and the start of my chemotherapy. I’m anxious but I know we are in the right place,” Joe concluded.


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