Doctors at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi have performed the first robotic “whipple” procedures to treat pancreatic and duodenal tumors in the UAE, expanding the application of specialised assistive technology to treat complex diseases and conditions.
Robotic surgery is an advanced form of minimally invasive or laparoscopic surgery. It has transformed the care and treatment of prostate cancer, digestive diseases, urological procedures, hysterectomy and mitral valve repair – all of which are performed by experts at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi – by increasing the precision of operations and reducing patients’ recovery time.
During robotic procedures, the surgeon controls instruments attached to mechanical arms, gaining a high-definition, three-dimensional view of the surgical site. The hospital carried out its first robotic operation in 2015 and the first robotic whipple procedures in 2018.
“Robotic-assisted surgery is becoming the standard of surgical care in many specialties around the world. Patients in the region are increasingly seeing the advantage of opting for such minimally-invasive procedures over traditional open surgery,” said Dr. Yasir Akmal, a Staff Physician of General and Oncologic Surgery in the Digestive Disease Institute at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.
“This technology was developed to help surgeons overcome certain limitations and enhance their capabilities during complex surgical procedures. At the same time, patients benefit from smaller incisions and scarring during the procedure, and faster recovery time,” he added.
Dr. Akmal says not all patients are candidates for robotic surgery, and a multidisciplinary team at the hospital collaborates to review each case to determine the right course of action.
Robotics enables dexterity
Explaining his most recent fully robotic whipple procedure to treat a tumor, the expert says such assistive technology enhances precision during such high-risk procedures and leads to better outcomes for the patient.
“A whipple procedure is a complicated operation to remove or resect the head of the pancreas and portions of the small intestine and bile duct. After the procedure, we must reconnect the remaining organs for the normal functioning of the digestive system,” he says.
“Using robotics enables us to have more dexterity and control, increases our visibility, reduces the surgeon’s muscle tremor and enables us to move our instruments in a way that a human wrist cannot.”
“Additionally, instead of make one large incision in the patient’s abdomen, which increases the stress on the body and leads to more fluid loss, robotic surgery allows us to make five to six small surgical cuts instead, causing fewer wounds, and reduced pain and recovery time.”
Dr. Akmal says any concerns around the use of robotics are addressed during a comprehensive discussion with patients and their families on the different treatment options.
“Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is among only a few facilities in the country that have a multidisciplinary team with a high level of expertise and proficiency in medical robotics. One of the biggest concerns for our patients is around the surgeon’s involvement in the surgery and we reassure them that the robot is just an advanced tool to assist us. The team always has a surgeon on the console controlling the robot and one at the bedside guiding and tailoring the procedure to the patient.”
M.S.V, a 55-year-old patient who opted for a robotic whipple surgery at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, admits that she had some initial reservations about the procedure.
“I had so many questions but Dr. Yasir said I was a good candidate for robotic surgery after doing a thorough investigation. He was very transparent and explained all the benefits and possible complications, which helped instill the confidence I needed to go ahead. I think it is very important to build that rapport and trust with your doctors.”
The Abu Dhabi resident says that the operation went well, and she continues visiting her doctor for routine check-ups.
“My minor post-op complications were dealt with immediately and I had a good recovery, thanks to the kind and attentive team at the hospital. I love going back for my follow up scans and tests because I am so attached to my care providers.”