An Unknown Threat: How robotic kidney surgery changed Donna's life
Date: 5/22/2014
A routine physical revealed a kidney problem—and a new technique for repair

Donna, a 66–year-old Mercerville resident, had no idea she was living with only one working kidney.

Following a routine physical, Donna was surprised to learn that her urine test had come back abnormal. A trip to the urologist revealed a blockage of her ureter, the drainage tube from the kidney to the bladder.

“The doctor explained that I was living with one kidney. We didn’t know for how long, and he recommended surgery,” Donna explains.

“It was my first surgery ever. I was scared to death.”

Donna’s physicians first placed a stent, and then recommended a pyeloplasty to correct the blockage. She consulted with urology experts about state-of-the-art technologies available to effectively treat her condition.

Basics on the Blockage

Donna’s condition, known as ureteropelvic junction (UPJ) obstruction, is often congenital but sometimes acquired. The obstruction occurs where the ureter meets the collection system to the kidney. Patients often complain of back pain, or experience frequent kidney infections or kidney stones. As in Donna’s case, there may be no symptoms present at all.

Still, her kidney function needed to be saved, and board certified urologist John Watson, MD, had just the tool to do it.

Robotics to the Rescue

The da Vinci Robot Surgical System offers a minimally invasive way to fix a blocked or narrowed ureter. Using robotic technology with 3-D image visualization, this laparoscopic pyeloplasty technique uses three to four small, dime-sized incisions to reach the area of the blockage.

“Using the da Vinci laparoscopic tool, we look inside the abdomen—which is inflated with gas so we have room to work—we expose the kidneys, find the obstruction and remove that narrowed area that’s causing the problem,” explains Dr. Watson.

“We then sew things back together so that narrowed area is gone and there’s a wide open channel from the kidney to the bladder.”

Before the laparoscopic method was available, a traditional open surgery pyeloplasty required long recovery times up to six to eight weeks. This is due to the surgery’s invasive nature and the amount of nerves and muscular tissue along the flank area, according to Dr. Watson.

“We’re really seeing a remarkable reduction in pain and quicker recovery, which is much easier to manage for the patient,” Dr. Watson reports.

The procedure results in less blood loss, pain, and scarring, as well as shorter hospital stays and lower risk of complication and infection for the patient.

“I couldn’t pick up the grandkids for a little while, but I don’t remember it being a long time at all,” reports Donna. “Within about two weeks I was pretty well back to normal.”

“[Donna’s] studies showed a pretty significant obstruction,” Dr. Watson recalls. “After the procedure we repeated the studies, and it was wide open.”

Team Approach to Care

The da Vinci robot is demonstrating improved clinical outcomes for UPJ obstruction, as seen with Donna, who is comfortably enjoying trips to the casino, lunches with friends, and time at home with her husband, daughter, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and dogs—all under one roof!

Donna feels grateful for the comprehensive care she received throughout this process.

“I’m terrified of needles so going into the hospital and surgery was scary for me,” she says. “There was so much courtesy from everyone that touched me. No one made me feel rushed, or that I should be embarrassed.”

Donna encourages all patients to maintain good health practices by receiving regular physicals and tests.

“I’m so grateful something like this could be caught, so it didn’t cause bigger problems later,” Donna concludes.


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