Lehigh Valley, Pa.,
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LVHN Marks 10,000th Robotic Surgical Procedure

Minimally invasive program, which began in 2008 with one robot, now has five robots serving four hospitals

In some ways, it feels like only yesterday when Martin Martino, MD, thinks about the first days of Lehigh Valley Health Network’s (LVHN) minimally invasive robotic surgery program with just one robot and a handful of clinicians at Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–17th Street.

Nine years later, the program has expanded to the point where it includes five robots and more than 40 surgeons across 10 service lines working in four hospitals – LVH–Cedar Crest, LVH–Muhlenberg, LVH–Pocono and LVH–Schuylkill. And as of Thursday, May 11, the program had served a total of 10,000 patients.

“This milestone is a tribute to the value of amazing teamwork and our health network’s commitment to caring for our community,” says Martino, a gynecological oncology surgeon who leads the robotic surgery program. “We’re so fortunate to have a highly skilled, multidisciplinary clinical team and a wonderful nursing staff that have allowed us to take on complicated cases resulting in outstanding outcomes.”

The 10,000th patient was Ann Marie Colo, a 73-year-old cancer patient from Dunmore, Pa. She was treated at a hospital near her northeastern Pennsylvania home and asked to be transferred to LVHN. Martino’s team performed a hysterectomy and a “sentinel” lymph node dissection robotically without complications. Colo went home to Dunmore the following day and as a result of this minimally invasive approach was able to spend Mother’s Day with her family.

The sentinel lymph node procedure with firefly technology is being used to help gynecologic oncology surgeons reduce the incidence of complications while improving detection rates. Lehigh Valley Health Network is the only center in the region offering this new technology.

“My husband Casper and I had heard so many great things about LVHN from people in our area and we are so glad we chose LVHN,” Colo says. “The nurses who helped me heard it was our 49th wedding anniversary and they bought us flowers. We feel very blessed.”

Colo admits to being uncertain about robotic surgery.

“I was a little skeptical at first, but Dr. Martino explained how everything worked and I trusted him completely,” Colo says. “I can't believe how far the medical field has come, and I would highly

recommend this surgery. I don't even feel like I had surgery. I’ve had very little pain since the procedure.”

Colo’s surgical team included: Dennis Chyung, MD; Ashely Faden, MD; Sarah Wenrick, PA-C; Kendall Heyer, RN; Stephanie Nelson, RN; Tracy Weber, RN; Mike Wiesel, RN; Soraya Fehnel, CRNA.

When LVHN’s robotic program was launched in 2008, critics were unsure if robotic surgery would be safe and effective enough to be a useful surgical option. However, the outcomes from the team at LVHN have validated that robotic surgery is here to stay. A five-year validation trial published in 2014 by Martino and his team demonstrated how a robotic approach offered improved quality outcomes when compared to non-robotic approaches. Some medical experts are predicting that with the influx of competition expected over the next five years, about one-third of all surgeries will be performed robotically.

“Future surgical care will continue to advance over time and it is our goal to have LVHN leading these advancements to help improve care for our patients.” Martino says. “We’ve expanded our program dramatically and we look forward to continue offering our patients the most innovative surgical techniques to address many health conditions in the years to come. The potential of robotic procedures is continues to improve the way our physicians operate through a minimally invasive approach.”