Tiny Fading Scars. Long-lasting Hope. Skip To Content

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Tiny Fading Scars. Long-lasting Hope.

Open heart surgery was once one of the most difficult surgeries a patient could face. Not only were the risks for complications high, the healing required afterward took months. Large scars left a permanent reminder that never went away.

Today, cardiovascular surgeons perform the same surgery through three or four inch-wide incisions. These tiny scars eventually turn silver and fade. This new procedure helps patients recover quickly and look forward to a healthier life.

Dr. Roxanne Newman is a cardiothoracic surgeon at Sanford Fargo Medical Center. She’s spent more than 20 years performing heart surgery. Always one to embrace new techniques, Dr. Newman is one of the only cardiothoracic surgeons in the region who performs robotic heart surgery on beating hearts.

Robotic Surgery, Not Robots

Robotic surgery is not surgery by a robot. Instead, physicians use endoscopic technology – the ability to make small incisions, insert cameras and scalpels through tiny tubes and guide them by looking through a special machine.

Instead of standing directly over the patient’s body and using their hands to guide the scalpel, the physician instructs the scope movement. This technology was designed by the military to allow physicians to perform surgery on the frontlines without actually being physically present in battle.

Rural regions and some countries with limited access to medical specialists also use robotic surgery to provide much-needed operations. Technology makes it possible for a patient to be in one location with the equipment and assisting physicians while the surgeon is in a different location. At Sanford Heart, however, the surgeon is in the same room as the patient.

Less Pain, Quicker Recovery

“The benefits to the patient are the potential for a quicker recovery, less pain, less blood loss and smaller incisions,” says Dr. Newman. “In conventional open heart bypass, you are required to make an incision through the chest that goes through the sternum bone. Patients have to go on the heart lung machine and there’s considerable recovery because of the bone healing required with that. With robotic surgery, the heart remains beating, patients do not have to go on the heart lung machine, the incisions are just an inch wide and no bone is cut, which means the body can heal much faster.”

Verna Goldal can testify to that. She recently had open heart bypass surgery using robotic technology. “I’ve had a lot of friends that have had open heart surgery and they always say, ‘welcome to the zipper club,’” laughs Verna. “This time is was different. It’s a lot easier. I’m glad I had it done this way.”

Not Just for Heart Surgery

At Sanford, robotic surgery is also used in gynecology, urology and other specialties. Each time the advantages to the patient are the same – smaller incisions, less blood loss, faster recovery. Technology keeps advancing and allowing surgeons to use robotic surgery in new ways. Robotic surgery is also easier on the physician.

“One of the best things for us now is the high definition of the visual appearance. It’s completely different than the old monitors were,” says Dr. Newman. “I got to see open heart surgery in its infancy and the changes I’ve observed over the last 20 years are incredible. To think where we could be in the next 20 years is very exciting.”

Posted Date: August 2011