Surgeons have used a robot to operate on a beating heart for the very first time at Barts Heart Centre.
Until recently, patients needing a coronary bypass to divert blood around narrowed or clogged arteries were offered open heart surgery, which involved cutting open the breastbone.
But now, with assistance from highly-sophisticated robotic technology, specialists at St Bartholomew’s Hospital are able to perform the procedure by creating much smaller incisions – a process known as keyhole surgery – which dramatically reduces the size of the wound and subsequent recovery time.
The robot – officially named the Da Vinci – translates the surgeon’s hand movements, made at a console, in real time, via four mechanical arms, allowing them to make tiny incisions through the human skin.
The instruments move much like a human hand, but with a greater range of motion and precision.
3D images are beamed back to the surgeon via a high-definition screen.
The Barts Heart Centre at St Bartholomew’s is one of only two centres in the UK to offer Robot-assisted heart surgery of this kind, and the only one in London, made possible thanks to funding from Barts Charity.
To prepare for the first patients, the entire clinical team, including surgeons, anaesthetists nurses and perfusionists, had to undergo hours of training, including by visiting other specialist centres across Europe.
Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon Mr. Dincer Aktuerk said: “Conventional coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) is still an excellent operation, however in selected patients a less invasive approach may be suitable. Where it would typically take patients several weeks to recover from a CABG, now, with Robotic heart surgery of this kind, they are back to their old selves in days.
“We are able to send patients home sooner, there is reduced pain and discomfort, faster recovery and much higher levels of patient satisfaction.
“This is a major milestone for our hospital and for the UK as a whole. I would like to thank the entire team involved in this ground-breaking surgery.”
Kemal, a 54-year-old builder from Edmonton, north London, was among the first patients at St Bartholomew’s to be treated using the da Vinci system.
He was advised to have surgery for heart disease which was triggering symptoms including tiredness and breathlessness.
Kemal said: "I was worried about the recovery time but two weeks after my operation, I am feeling good. I am now back on my feet and able to take short walks to the shop.
"I want to give myself time before returning to work but I am pleased with my progress and feel very lucky to have had this kind of operation."