Danny’s Story: Recovering From Robotic Lung Surgery Easier Than He Dreamed

Firefighter Danny Roell admits that some people gave him strange looks when he said he was having robotic-assisted surgery for a lung problem.

“Sure, it’s new technology. But because of what robotic-assisted surgery offers, I felt 100 percent comfortable with it,” said Danny, 24, a graduate of Edgewood High School who lives in Trenton with his wife, Cristina.

In summer 2011, Danny had been diagnosed with stage three Hodgkin’s  lymphoma, a cancer that affects the cells of the immune system, including the lymphatic system. Danny had completed a full course of chemotherapy to fight the cancer. But a follow-up scan in October revealed a new abnormality in lymph nodes right in front of the heart.

“We needed to determine if it was persistent lymphoma that had failed to respond to chemotherapy or something unrelated to his cancer,” reports cardiothoracic surgeon John M. Miller, MD of Greater Dayton Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeons.

Danny said his first thought was “Is the cancer winning?” 

Surgery With Precision

“I offered Danny the option of robotic-assisted surgery,” said Dr. Miller, who has been performing robotic-assisted thoracic surgery at Atrium Medical Center since June 2011.

The other option was traditional thoracic surgery which requires a large incision, cutting muscle, and spreading the ribs with retractors.

“Robotic-assisted surgery allows me to make tiny incisions and do complex work using miniaturized, precision instruments, seeing an amazing three-dimensional visual as I work,” Dr. Miller explains. “That makes for a better surgery. Not having to cut through muscle and spread ribs and other traditional surgical procedures makes for easier recovery.”

He told Danny that patients who have robotic-assisted surgery generally have significantly less pain, a shorter hospital stay, faster return to normal daily activities and, most importantly, the potential for better clinical outcomes.

Better Accuracy Equals Better Outcome

Dr. Miller removed the abnormal lymph node in addition to a portion of the adjacent lung, which was adhered to that node. Given that unexpected finding, the accuracy of the robotic instruments was even more of an advantage.

“Happily, a biopsy showed the removed area was most likely an infection – not more cancer,” said Danny. “Because of robotic surgery, I spent only two nights in the hospital, and I must say the recovery wasn’t that bad.”

Danny is now undergoing radiation as an additional weapon against his original diagnosis of Hodgkin’s.

“My biggest goal? To get back to work,” he said. “Unfortunately, with my job, you can’t ease back into it. You have to be strong and healthy from the day you go back.”

Robotic-Assisted Surgery Changes the Surgery Experience 

Before robotic-assisted surgery arrived, surgery options were:

  • Traditional surgery with a large, open incision 
  • Laparoscopy with small incisions, typically limited to very simple procedures

Now, thanks to the use of the da Vinci® Surgical System, surgeons at Atrium Medical Center are able to offer a minimally invasive option for urologic, gynecologic, and thoracic surgeries.

During the procedure, the surgeon sits near the patient at the system console in the operating room. He views the actual surgical site with a total immersion video system and does the surgery in real time using highly accurate, miniaturized instruments. Because of the precision of the instruments, only tiny incisions have to be made, eliminating the need to cut through major muscles.

“I see a magnified, high-resolution three-dimensional image of the actual surgical site as I work,” says Dr. Miller who performs robotic-assisted thoracic surgery at Atrium. “No matter how large an incision would be, I could never have the view that the robot gives me. It allows for extremely precise work.”

Dr. Miller emphasizes that this is not an independent robot at work.

“The system cannot be programmed and it cannot make decisions on its own,” he said. “The robotic system requires that every surgical maneuver be performed with direct input from the surgeon.”

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