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Facing Cancer Head-On

Robotic-assisted surgery, Firefly fluorescence provide enhanced imaging to save healthy kidney

Thomas Brinkley
“I was surprised to find out I may have cancer, but once I read more about it I felt better about my recovery and moving forward,” says Thomas Brinkley, of Homewood. 

Learn more about robotic-assisted surgery at Palos.

 As a chemical engineer, Thomas Brinkley, 56, is used to solving problems.

And when it came to hearing he needed surgery to remove a growing mass on his kidney, he did something he does best – researched his options and came up with a solution.

He knew he had three choices. He could go with traditional open surgery, laparoscopic surgery, or robotic surgery using the da Vinci Surgical System.

“I was surprised to find out I may have cancer, but once I read more about it I felt better about my recovery and moving forward,” says Thomas, of Homewood.

His decision was finalized after meeting with James Sylora, M.D., a urologist with offices in Palos Heights and Evergreen Park who is well-known for his work with the da Vinci. Soon after, Thomas was scheduled for a robotic-assisted laparoscopic partial nephrectomy, during which a surgeon removes diseased tissue from the kidney and leaves healthy tissue in place.

“Saving the kidney not only reduces the likelihood of future hypertension and renal failure, but it just makes everything better,” Dr. Sylora says. “People are living longer.”

At Palos, surgeons are able to use Firefly fluorescence during robotic surgery for partial nephrectomy. The additional imaging provides a more detailed picture of kidney blood flow, a clearer distinction between cancerous and noncancerous tissue, and confirms the remaining kidney is functioning properly.

“The kidney is a very vascular organ. The challenges are keeping blood loss to a minimum and preserving as much normal kidney tissue and function as possible. With Firefly, we have the ability to selectively clamp off the profusion to just the part of the kidney we need to work on,” says Dr. Sylora. “These tools aid us in being more aggressive about going after tumors and offering partial kidney removal where normally we would have taken out the whole kidney.”

In addition to 3D™ high-definition cameras, the da Vinci has special robotic arms that bend and rotate far greater than the human wrist. As a result, surgeons operate with 3D™ enhanced vision, precision and dexterity. These features are critical to giving patients the best surgical experience possible.

 “Kidney surgery is a three-dimensional problem because the tumor can be in any location and you have to attack the problem from different angles,” says Dr. Sylora. “The flexibility of the robotic arms makes that possible.”

Traditional open surgery requires a 10- to 20-inch incision, often resulting in the removal of a lower rib to gain better access to the kidney. With da Vinci, surgeons work through small incisions in the trunk and navel. As a result, patients experience a quicker recovery, shorter hospital stay, less blood loss and lower rate of complications.

Thomas felt so good he returned to work eight days after surgery.

“My recovery was great,” says Thomas, who likes to stay active with exercises, tennis and weights.

Even though Thomas was instructed to wait six weeks before returning to his normal exercise routine, he stayed active during his recovery by walking. “Every day when I was home I was walking at least two to four miles a day, five days a week.” 

These are activities that wouldn’t have been possible for at least six months with traditional surgery.

It’s clear the future is here as robotics continue to change the face of surgery and the treatment options available to patients. 

“Palos provides its surgeons with the tools that allow us to bring university-level care to our community,” Dr. Sylora says.