High-tech touch improving surgery outcomes

Published: May. 23, 2019 at 10:22 PM CDT
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Wahkunah Blevins never expected a major health battle at just 28 years old.

"I thought I was having a kidney stone attack," she says of the pain she experienced in March 2018.

It turned out to be a tumor on her pancreas.

"It was very scary, very shocking," she said.

But she became intrigued when her surgeon, Dr. Brenner Dixon at Stormont Vail, suggested he could remove her tumor using a robot.

"I thought Terminator!" Wahkunah laughed. "I was actually pretty excited about it because I was ready to get back on my feet. I'm one of these people - I just don't like sitting in one place and recovering too long at all."

Dr. Dixon said a robotic approach can be a big benefit for patients.

"In the past, these were very difficult open surgeries. Patients could be sick and in the hospital for a bit of time," he said. "The minimally invasive and the robotic approach allows us a shorter period of time that they're in the hospital and a better recovery and really allows us to do a lot more of the delicate work essentially under a microscope with very delicate movements that we just can't quite accomplish with our own hands."

Dr. Dixon said the newest robotic technology not only corrects fine hand movements and offers an improved, three-d, high-def view, they also maneuver better inside a patient.

"We have a lot more freedom of movement. We're now able to accomplish things with a single dock rather than multiple changes to the robot," he said.

Dr. Dixon used the robot to remove part of Wahkunah's pancreas and her spleen.

"It would have become a cancer in her lifetime," he said. "For a young woman who's approaching 30, a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is really a death sentence."

Instead, after undergoing the surgery in October, she spent a few days in the hospital, three weeks with a drainage tube, and a few weeks off work.

"The day of the surgery, i was actually up walking around that night," she said.

And rather than the huge incision she could have had decorating her abdomen, all that remains are a few small scars.

"I'm just grateful to be alive more than anything," Wahkunah said.