No Scar Left Behind: New Robot-Assisted Surgery Goes Through Belly Button

new robot assisted surgery goes through belly button
Kasia Thimsen, with general surgeon Rick Low, MD, FACS, is thrilled with the outcome of her robotic single-incision belly button gall bladder removal.

"This is amazing," new mom Kasia Thimsen said. "Next summer, I'll be able to wear a bikini!"

Looking at the slender, attractive 26-year-old, one would immediately wonder, "Well, why wouldn't she consider a bikini?" But Thimsen's reaction came the day after she'd had gall bladder surgery, and she was marveling at the lack of a scar.

"Really," she said. "I knew they'd taken a whole organ out, and naturally I thought there would be a noticeable incision. But there wasn't. All I had was a small scab and when it fell off, all that was left was my belly button.

"My normal belly button!" she stressed with a smile. "It didn't look any different from the way it was before surgery."

Thimsen was one of the first patients to have the newest procedure approved by the FDA for the da Vinci surgical robot, gall bladder removal through a single incision in the belly button. Each year, about a million people in the United States have their gall bladders removed. Because the belly button hides the surgical incision, after it heals the result is scarless surgery.

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In February, Rick Low, MD, FACS, and his Valley Surgical Clinics colleague Francisco Rodriguez, MD, FACS, were the first two surgeons in Arizona trained to provide their patients with the very latest in minimally invasive surgery — "belly button" gallbladder removals using the da Vinci S Robotic Surgical System at John C. Lincoln North Mountain Hospital.

Surgeons at North Mountain Hospital have been using the da Vinci for a variety of minimally invasive urological, gynecological and general surgical procedures.

The range of robotic surgeries possible at North Mountain expanded in December, when the FDA approved the da Vinci's new operating platform that specifically allows general surgeons to remove the gall bladder through a single incision in the belly button.

Technically, it's called a single-incision robotic-assisted laparoscopic cholecystectomy. What that means is that instead of the four small incisions that are usually required for laparoscopic surgeries, this new surgical procedure removes the patient's gall bladder through just one incision in the patient's belly button.

"But this is about a lot more than cosmetics — it's not just about scarless surgery," Dr. Low said. "It's about pain and better recoveries. One incision is going to hurt less and heal faster than four incisions, even if the four are small. Nobody can argue about that."

Thimsen agrees. She had her surgery in mid-morning and went home after lunch. She took a pain pill that afternoon, "because that's what the doctors told me to do," she said. But the next day she was picking up 20-pound baby Ryden "and doing all the things a mom needs to do.

"By the second or third day after surgery, I felt fine," she said. "I was completely back to normal."

"I think this is only the beginning," said Dr. Rodriguez, "and eventually we will expand the use of this tool for more procedures. The robotic system gives me the ability to not only operate through one small incision, but it gives me the precision and three-dimensional, high definition vision system to enhance our surgical capabilities."

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