In the physicians’ lounge at Abrazo West Campus, all Dr. Sushil Pandey did was press a button on a machine. His hot chocolate was mixed inside the machine and poured into a waiting cup, perfectly delivered.
Some day, his colorectal surgeries will be just as easy.
“Absolutely,” he answered when asked if fully-automated surgery is coming. “It’s like a self-driving car: It’s going to happen.
“This is the future.”
Until a “Dr. Robot” comes along, Pandey will continue to work with machines, using robotics in the surgery room.
As he will at the Surgical Robotics Showcase from noon to 3 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, Pandy demonstrated how he uses robotic technology.
For the demonstration, instead of a live patient, a plastic torso — dubbed “Fred” by hospital staff — lies patiently on the operation table. Four long arms of a machine are inserted into holes in the plastic torso.
If this were an actual patient, Pandey would surgically create those four small holes. During two- to three-hour procedures, the robotic machines help him to noninvasively complete his surgeries, while never having to physically touch his patient.
He sits in front of a video monitor in the corner of the surgery room, about 10 feet from the operating table. Using two fingers of each hand and a foot pedal, Pandey operates the machine “hands,” separating intestines, cutting through organs, digging out cancer, then tying or stapling sutures.
Pandey’s children, ages 2, 5 and 8 have used the machine for simulations. “They love it,” he said.
“For them, it’s very easy to comprehend,” said Pandey, who lives in Glendale. “It’s the same technology as video games.”
“We have some surgeons that are very young— they grew up on video games,” added Trisha Pollard, Abrazo West’s director of Surgical Services. “They pick this up very easily.”
Pandey said one of the reasons he loves the DaVinci Xi is the range of motion; unencumbered by human limitations, the machine “hands” can move 360 degrees.
Perhaps more important is the camera attached to one arm allows for extreme closeups, looking into hidden areas and magnifying far beyond the capabilities of the human eye.
“It is faster, it is more precise and it’s safer,” Pandey said.
One of his greatest success stories would not have been possible without robotics, he said. Three years ago, a 37-year-old woman was experiencing severe bleeding shortly after childbirth. A colonoscopy revealed she had colon cancer.
Using robotic techniques, Pandey was able to remove the tumor with minimal invasion.
Without the DaVinci apparatus, Pandey said, “I would have had to take the bowels out —everything.” Adding: “She would have had to have a colectomy bag for the rest of her life.”
Abrazo West began using the robotic device in 2014. Pandey, 41, used the DaVinci a few years prior to Abrazo introducing the surgical robot into operating rooms, while he was training at the University of Chicago. Since moving to Arizona and joining Abrazo, he has done hundreds of surgeries with the robotic device.
Even with complicated surgeries, he said, patients often go home the day after robotic-assisted surgery — as opposed to spending three or four days in the hospital following traditional surgery methods.
And, when compared to “open surgery” in which a line of flesh is cut open for the surgeon to operate, recovery time at home is faster and far less painful with robotic surgery, Pandey said.
“It’s just four small holes,” he said. “Before they go home, I give patients a prescription for pain medication. And on follow up they tell me, ‘I didn’t even need the pain medication — I just used Tylenol.’”
How reliable is this machine? Pandey grinned.
“It’s more reliable than my eyes,” he said. “More reliable than my hands.”
Stacey Frederico thinks her surgeon is extremely reliable.
“I would highly recommend Dr. Pandey, that’s for sure,” said Frederico, 51, of Goodyear.
A week after her Nov. 6 surgery to remove a damaged part of her intestines, she was walking around, feeling good and ready to get back to work as an administrative assistant. “I couldn’t be happier. Everything has gone just great,” she said.
How does she feel about Pandey using robotic arms for her surgery?
“I think that’s really cool,” she said. “That’s amazing that he can do that.”
David Stipp agreed with that.
Stipp, 59, and a Phoenix resident had a routine colonoscopy — and found out he had a tumor in his intestine. His doctor recommended Pandey.
“He told me he was going to make some small incisions to insert cameras and robotics. And one main incision to remove the tumor,” Stipp said.
On Sept. 25, Pandey used the DaVinci machine to remove a golf-ball-sized tumor from Stipp.
“Everything was good, recovery was great,” Stipp said. “I’ve had zero problems.
“I was out of the hospital within 24 hours.”
His recovery at home also went well. “The first week, I had to manage the pain (with medication). It wasn’t overwhelming, but I had to manage it. By the end of the second week, I was back to work,” the data analyst said.
He said it probably wouldn’t have been nearly as fast recovery, doing traditional surgery with a “stem to stern” incision, as he put it.
Stipp’s thought’s on robotic surgery?
“Pretty remarkable,” he said. “It’s the world we live in now.”
And that world is fast-changing.
Standing in front of the DaVinci Xi, Dr. Pandey said he saw the remarkable progression from its predecessor, the Si.
Pandey expects another update in the next year or two, moving closer to autonomous surgery.
Although he is an enthusiastic proponent of technology, Pandey is not concerned about job security.
“This machine is not going to replace me,” he said. “It’s going to help me.”
One wonders what Sahara Pandey, 8, will be operating by the time she is her father’s age.
“She broke her arm, so I took her to the hospital,” Dr. Pandy said. “The nurse asked what she wanted to be when she grows up. She said, ‘I want to be Daddy. I want to be a colorectal surgeon.’”
Using robotics, of course.
Abrazo holds a Surgical Robotics Showcase from noon to 3 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, at Abrazo West Campus, 13677 W. McDowell Road, Goodyear. There is no charge, but space is limited. To register or for more information, visit abrazohealth.com/events/#3490.