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It’s been 13 years since UPMC Passavant–McCandless first introduced robotic-assisted surgery to its patients. Since then, it’s become a medical destination for advanced robotic surgeries, offering more than 60 different routine and complex procedures.
Robotic-assisted surgeries at UPMC Passavant–McCandless continue to grow in number as specialists find new applications to enhance patient care and outcomes. Patients are benefitting from the advantages of smaller incisions, less pain and bleeding, reduced hospital stays, and faster recoveries.
Michael J. Bonidie, MD, is a board-certified urogynecologist specializing in complex uterine and vaginal prolapse surgery. He joined UPMC Passavant just as its robotic surgery program was starting in 2010. Today, he sits on the robotics oversight committee for all UPMC facilities.
“In just over a decade, we’ve developed a very robust, multidisciplinary robotics program at UPMC Passavant,” says Dr. Bonidie. “From the start, there was a commitment to bring in top experts with the launch of each specialization. There are now high-level robotic offerings in many areas across the hospital. It’s something I’m very proud to still be part of — and it’s a tremendous resource for northern community residents.”
Robotic surgery procedures are regularly performed at UPMC Passavant in these nine specialty areas:
• Cardiac (Heart)
• General Surgery
• Surgical Oncology
Currently, there are 20 skilled UPMC Passavant surgeons using robotics for more than 60 different procedures. They care for conditions ranging from leaky heart valves and painful uterine fibroids to complex liver resections, head and neck tumors, and pancreatic and prostate cancer.
Technology That Started on the Battlefield
Robotic-assisted surgery owes its roots to the military, which was looking for a way to perform surgery remotely on wounded soldiers they couldn’t immediately reach. That goal — still not realized — led to the beginnings of today’s robotic-assisted surgery in 1985.
In 2000, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted approval for the first da Vinci® Surgical System for general use on patients. Two years later, the system was approved for mitral valve surgery on heart patients, and in 2005, the FDA approved its use for gynecologic surgery.
• UPMC Passavant acquired its first da Vinci® Surgical System in 2010. In early 2024, the hospital will add its third da Vinci to meet the growing demand.
• Surgeons at UPMC Passavant use a number of other specialized robotic-assisted technologies, such as the Monarch™ robotic bronchoscopy system. This system allows doctors to maneuver into the lung’s tiniest passages to inspect suspicious lesions and collect tissue samples to determine whether they are cancerous or benign.
• Orthopaedic specialists use the Mako SmartRobotics™ system at UPMC Passavant for joint replacement procedures. The system’s 3D modeling and CT scans let surgeons create a personalized surgical plan before operating.
• The Mazor X Stealth™ surgical robot is used in a wide range of individualized spine surgeries — from treating degenerative spine disease to eliminating tumors. It offers real-time 3D imaging so surgeons can navigate the spine more precisely than ever before in less invasive procedures.
Laparoscopic or Robotic: What’s the Difference?
Surgeons are always looking for ways to achieve better outcomes for their patients. One of the most important medical milestones in achieving that goal was the introduction in the 1980s of minimally invasive surgery, known as laparoscopic surgery. Instead of making a large incision to enter the body (also called open surgery), surgeons make tiny cuts at the treatment site, then insert slender surgical tools and a small camera to visualize the procedure.
“Robotic-assisted surgery is part of the evolution of laparoscopic surgery. Both are forms of minimally invasive surgery,” says Dr. Bonidie. “Robotics offers surgeons greater wrist flexibility, magnification, and a 3D view when compared to laparoscopic surgery. Depending on the type of surgery being performed, that can make an important difference, offering surgeons greater precision and access to hard-to-reach areas of the body.”
“I really value the significant exposure I had as a resident and fellow in both laparoscopic and robotic-assisted surgeries. I still use both of those skill sets regularly today when operating — and when training oncology fellows,” says Madeleine Courtney-Brooks, MD, MPH, a board-certified gynecologic oncologist at UPMC Passavant and director of the Magee-Womens Gynecologic Cancer Program of UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.
“Minimally invasive surgery has many advantages for our patients. It decreases recovery time, reduces time spent in the hospital, and gets people back on their feet more quickly,” says Dr. Courtney-Brooks. “We’re always looking for ways to shorten surgical recoveries for our patients while ensuring that we’re not negatively impacting cancer outcomes in any way. Laparoscopic and robotic-assisted surgeries allow us to do that.”
If you need surgery, health care experts recommend choosing your doctor first — not the technology. “Our goal is to ensure we’re using the best surgical approach for each patient,” says Dominick A. Motto, MD, a board-certified general surgeon at UPMC Passavant who specializes in abdominal wall hernia repair.
Dr. Motto was trained in robotic surgery under the careful eye of mentors when he joined the UPMC Passavant staff as a surgical resident about a decade ago. “I was among the lucky people to undergo intense training in those early years,” he says.
Ongoing training and continuing education in robotic surgery remain a top priority for UPMC Passavant surgeons, says Dr. Motto. “There are very robust continuing education programs on robotic surgery for practicing surgeons because there’s always new information to learn about novel techniques, adjustments, and benefits,” he says. “Here at UPMC Passavant, we actively share insights. Working together, we’re refining and perfecting the surgeries we offer our patients. The end result is better outcomes and faster recoveries.”
da Vinci® Surgical System is a trademark of Intuitive Surgical Operations, Inc.
Monarch™ is a trademark of Auris Health, Inc.
Mako SmartRobotics™ is a trademark of Stryker.
Mazor X Stealth™ is a trademark of Medtronic.
The Growth of Robotics at UPMC Passavant–McCandless
• Robotic-assisted surgery was introduced at the hospital in 2010.
With 73 operations performed that first year, robotic surgeries more than tripled the following year.
• In all, more than 6,500 robotic-assisted surgeries have been performed at UPMC Passavant over the last 13 years.
• The hospital’s most frequently performed robotic surgery procedure
is inguinal hernia repair — more than 1,000 to date.
• Today, more than half of all
joint replacement surgeries are robotically assisted.
• This year, UPMC Passavant is on course to perform more than 1,500 robotic surgeries — its highest number on record.