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St. Michael’s urologist first in Canada to perform kidney autotransplant using robotic surgery

Toronto, October 26, 2015

By Corinne Ton That

Urologist Dr. Jason Lee sets up the da Vinci Surgical System
Urologist Dr. Jason Lee sets up the da Vinci Surgical System. Dr. Lee was the first surgeon in Canada to perform an autotransplant on a damaged kidney using robotic surgery. (Photo by Katie Cooper)

A St. Michael’s Hospital surgical team was the first in Canada to save a patient’s kidney by repositioning the organ with robotic surgery.

Dr. Jason Lee had to choose between removing the damaged kidney and performing an autotransplant – a complicated procedure that preserves the damaged kidney by moving the organ into a new position.

“Unlike patients with kidney failure, this patient’s kidney was still functioning but not draining properly in its current position,” said Dr. Lee, a urologist, who led the surgery.

The patient also had diabetes and high blood pressure, putting her at risk of kidney failure in the future. Preserving both kidneys was important in the event that one kidney failed, said. Dr. Lee. An autotransplant without the use of robotics would have required a much bigger incision and made for a longer, more painful recovery.

That’s why Dr. Lee turned to the da Vinci Surgical System, a robot that gives surgeons 3D vision inside the patient and greater dexterity and precision than traditional laparoscopic surgery.

“It’s like remote-control surgery – whatever you do on the console, the same moves will occur inside the patient through the robot,” said Dr. Lee. “Robotics allowed us to perform something that would be very difficult with traditional surgery, using safe, minimally-invasive techniques.”

In just two to three weeks following the surgery, Dr. Lee’s patient was doing well and back on her feet, with only a few five-millimetre scars on her abdomen. An open incision would have required about six weeks of healing.

   “Robotics allowed us to perform something that would be very difficult with traditional surgery, using safe, minimally-invasive techniques.” – Dr. Jason Lee

St. Michael’s was the first hospital in Toronto to acquire the da Vinci robot in 2008. Robotic systems are typically used in surgeries for prostate, kidney and bladder cancers as well as gynecologic and complex reconstruction surgeries.

While the autotransplant operation isn’t a common use of the da Vinci, Dr. Lee said he hoped to see robotic surgery used more frequently in kidney transplants, which are done about 150 times a year at St. Michael’s.

“Patients who require kidney transplants are usually sick to begin with, so the use of robotic surgery has significant benefits and can decrease risk during surgery,” said Dr. Lee. “As technology improves, surgeons also need to improve to provide patients with better options.”

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.