Man Meets Robot



Barricades block flood-prone streets. Volunteers stack sandbags. Officials review emergency plans.

Ron Solberg knows the routine well. A lifelong Fargo resident and a leader at the North Dakota Air National Guard, he’s been instrumental in the region's flood fights for years.

“Optimism is part of meeting the challenge,” says the 54-year-old. “You need the mental framework that says, ‘I can do this, it’s not a big deal -- I’ll get through it.’”

Last fall he put that same mindset to work in an entirely different battlefield.

Early warning

“When I went in for my annual physical I felt great with no symptoms,” says Ron. “I never expected any kind of problem.”

A red flag went up when Ron’s PSA test showed a slight increase compared to previous years. The PSA blood test, along with a rectal exam, can detect prostate cancer at its earliest, most treatable stage. In many cases, it can even be cured!

Though Ron's PSA level was well within the normal range, the increase was enough to warrant further investigation at Sanford Urology in Fargo. A thorough exam revealed a small lump, plus a biopsy came back positive.

Ron's experience illustrates the importance of regular prostate cancer screening according to your doctor's recommendation. Why? Because results tracked over time can detect developments leading to lifesaving diagnoses.

A younger man’s treatment

Ron and his wife, Dawn, took the time to read information and talk with Sanford doctors about treatment options.

“My first thought was I’ll just get the radioactive seeds and everything will be good,” says Ron. But they soon learned surgery was the recommended option for a man Ron’s age and in his good health.

Sanford urologist Dr. Thomas Noah explains: “Younger, healthier men get the most benefit from prostate cancer surgery -- the most durable treatment over the long term.That’s an important factor because a man in his 50s likely has many more years of life. We want him to have a good quality of life, too.”

A second opinion at Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center supported the surgical option.

Then came another decision: traditional or robotic?

Robotics transforms surgery

Since 2009, Sanford Urology has offered robotics technology -- a new approach to performing minimally invasive surgery.

“This technology is phenomenal,” says Dr. Noah. “Even complex procedures become doable because of the excellent visualization, the magnification and the impressive capabilities of the small, advanced instrumentation. And of course patients definitely benefit from the minimally invasive approach.”

With robotics technology, the surgeon can safely perform surgery through five to six small incisions rather than one large incision. Benefits include:

  • Reduced pain and trauma to the body
  • Less scarring
  • Decreased chance for infection
  • Less blood loss
  • Shorter hospital stay
  • Faster recovery
  • Quicker return to normal activity

“We’re seeing very good results here,” says Dr. Noah. “They reflect the literature.” Prostate cancer has been the top use for robotics technology in urology, with several procedures performed each week. Kidney reconstructive procedures have benefited, too.

Home the next day

Ron underwent successful prostate surgery on Jan. 5 and went home the next day.

Just three weeks later he was back to work part-time. With the traditional approach, he would’ve been laid up twice that long.

Pleased with his quicker recovery, he’s even more pleased with the surgical result.

The early stage cancer was entirely removed. He’ll have follow-up with Dr. Noah, with no further treatment expected.

“The way I see it, all the pieces fell into place, starting with Terry who noticed the jump in my PSA,” says Ron. Physician's assistant Terry Peterson works at Sanford Clinic North Fargo.

Let’s do it!

Ron’s quicker recovery brought him closer to being at 100 percent for this year’s flood fight. He and the Fargo-based 119th Air National Guard Unit provide support to several North Dakota counties including Cass. His words of advice?

“Stay optimistic,” he says. “Do what you gotta do to get the job done. We've done it before, we'll do it again."

Posted Date: April 2011

Man Meets Robot

Healthy and strong, Ron Solberg never expected a prostate cancer diagnosis. Nor did he expect a surgical option that included robotics. See the difference today’s technology makes!