During her annual physical exam, Forest Lake resident Jeannette Wittrock talked with her family physician about her heavy, long menstrual bleeding. She had uterine fibroids, noncancerous tumors of the uterus, a condition that often runs in families. Her symptoms were severe enough to warrant surgery, so her doctor referred her to Gerald Cunniff, MD, a surgeon who specializes in the robotic treatment of uterine diseases.
Robotic surgery is performed using the advanced technology known as the da Vinci® Surgical System. The surgeon sits at a console and uses hand and foot peddles to control four robotic arms that hold micro-instruments and a miniature camera. The surgeon views the surgery through a 3-dimensional camera that magnifies the view 10 times.
The advantages of the robotic-assisted surgery are improved accuracy, precision and control for the surgeon and reduced pain, discomfort, blood loss and side effects for the patient. Studies have shown that robotic-assisted surgery has better outcomes than traditional open surgery.
"The primary advantage of robotic surgery is that it is less invasive," said Dr. Cunniff, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Allina Health Eagan Women's Health Clinic. "Because it is less invasive, recovery time is greatly reduced. In a traditional open procedure, the patient typically stays in the hospital three to four nights and then has a six-week recovery before she can return to work. With the robotic procedure, the hospital stay is usually overnight, and she can return to normal activity in two to three weeks."
Wittrock had read about a woman who underwent a robotic-assisted hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) in a community newsletter and was glad to learn that she was a candidate for the procedure. She had the procedure in early May, and her recovery has been good.
"I knew others who had hysterectomies, and it seemed that the recovery and the surgery were better with the robot," said Wittrock, who is 49. "I was only in the hospital overnight, and even just two weeks since my procedure, I'm feeling feel pretty good."
Wittrock adds that she experienced minimal pain that was easily controlled with over-the-counter medication. She was able to return to her normal activity relatively quickly and reports that just four weeks after surgery she was back to walking the dogs three to four miles a day.