St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton Surgeons Perform Canada’s First Fully Robotic Esophagectomy

First advance in surgical care for esophageal cancer in decades made possible by a donation made in memory of a young woman who died of the disease.

HAMILTON, ON, May 6, 2022 /CNW/ – Thanks to a new fully robotic approach, thoracic surgeons in Saint Joseph Healthcare Hamilton has changed the way esophageal cancer surgeries are performed. This is the most significant advancement in the field of esophageal cancer surgery in Canada in more than two decades.

Dr. Waël Hanna, thoracic surgeon at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and head of research at the hospital’s Boris Family Center for Robotic Surgery. Using a new fully robotic approach, the Hospital’s thoracic surgeons performed the first fully robotic esophagectomy in Canada on a patient with esophageal cancer. (CNW Group/St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton Foundation)

“Although esophageal cancer rarely makes the headlines, it has the second highest mortality rate of all cancers,” says Dr. Waël Hanna, thoracic surgeon at St. Joe’s and head of research at within the hospital’s Boris Family Center for Robotic Surgery. “It’s so deadly because the esophagus is deep in the throat and chest and it’s always been difficult to operate with traditional surgical methods.”

The complication rate for those who have a traditional esophagectomy (a procedure to remove the cancerous part of the esophagus while pulling the stomach up into the chest cavity to reattach it) reaches 60%. This is due to the procedure’s hand-sized incision, the trauma caused to the patient’s chest cavity, and the long recovery stay required after surgery in the ICU, which often leads to problems with pneumonia, heart infections and complications.

No one knows better than Georgetown, Ont.resident Jackie Dean Rowley. Her daughter Rachel Chuvalo was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2011 when she was just 29 years old. At that time, traditional surgery was the only option.

“She was five-foot-two, fit and neat,” Dean-Rowley said. “It’s hard for me, even now, to think of her beautiful little body going through such trauma. But Rachel was a fighter.” Chuvalo suffered complications after his surgery and eventually succumbed to his illness in 2013.

It was eight years after Chuvalo received treatment at St. Joe’s that Dean-Rowley learned of the promise of robotic surgery in treating patients with various forms of cancer. She met Dr. Hanna and learned that he was researching how to perform a new procedure to help people with esophageal cancer. Dean-Rowley knew she had found a way to honor her daughter’s memory and make a difference in the lives of people with esophageal cancer.

Dean Rowley made a $10,000 gift to help Dr. Hanna and her thoracic surgery colleagues receive special training in how to use a surgical robot to perform procedures on the esophagus. On March 30, 2022this training has been put to good use as Dr. Hanna and Dr. Jean Agzarian performed the first fully robotic esophagectomy in Canada on a 74-year-old man Burlington, Ont.named man David Paterson who was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in October 2021.

“The surgery took around eight hours and was performed through a number of small incisions ranging from 8 to 12mm in the patient’s abdomen and chest,” says Dr Hanna. “He was discharged from the hospital eight days later. From our point of view, everything went very, very well. But what matters most to us is how our patients feel after the surgery and if we were able to perform the cancer surgery we had planned.”

Just over three weeks after being released from the hospital, Paterson is at home and says he is in remission. “With the care and support of Dr. Hanna, I am happy to have made the decision to receive the first fully robotic surgery for this type of cancer in Canada. It was intimidating at first, knowing that you’re the first person they’ve operated on this way. But once Dr. Hanna explained how the robot could remove only the cancerous part of my esophagus, while aiding my recovery, I felt like the right decision. I don’t know what a traditional surgery would be like, but from what I’ve heard it would have been much more painful and hard on my body. I feel really lucky to have had this opportunity. I hope this means that other patients like me will have a better quality of life after the operation.”

In addition to training in robotic surgery, Drs. Hanna and Agzarian received, St. Joe’s sought approval from its ethics committee as well as Health Canada before proceeding with the procedure. The surgery was also supervised by Dr. Daniel Oh of University of Southern California, center of excellence in robotics. Robotic surgery is not yet funded by OHIP and is only made possible through the generosity of community donors and hospital funding because St. Joe’s believes robotic surgery has the power to to speed recovery, be more cost-effective and reduce pressures. on the health system.

“Here at St. Joe’s, we don’t just use a robot because it’s new or flashy. We use it to advance patient care. To change the way procedures are done. To develop new procedures to help those whose cancers were previously considered inoperable,” says Dr. Anthony Adil, Chief of Surgery at St. Joe’s. “We are changing and improving care for patients like Rachel and David, and those who will follow in the future. We are grateful to all donors who have made it possible for us to provide this type of care to our community. “

Dr. Waël Hanna (left) and his colleagues performed the first fully robotic esophagectomy in Canada on a 74-year-old man from Burlington, Ontario named David Paterson (right) who was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in October 2021 (CNW Group/St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton Foundation)

Dr. Waël Hanna (left) and his colleagues performed Canada’s first fully robotic esophagectomy on a 74-year-old man from Burlington, Ontario, named David Paterson (right), who was diagnosed with stomach cancer esophagus in October 2021. (CNW Group/St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton Foundation)

Rachel Chuvalo had complications after undergoing a traditional esophagectomy and succumbed to her illness in 2013. She was 31 years old.  His mother, Jackie Dean-Rowley, a resident of Georgetown, Ont., donated to St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton to help thoracic surgeons at the Hospital receive special training in using a surgical robot to perform interventions on the esophagus.  (CNW Group/St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton Foundation)

Rachel Chuvalo experienced complications after undergoing a traditional esophagectomy and succumbed to her illness in 2013. She was 31. Her mother, Georgetown, Ont., resident Jackie Dean-Rowley donated to St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton to help thoracic surgeons at the hospital receive special training in how to use a surgical robot to perform procedures on the esophagus. (CNW Group/St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton Foundation)

THE SOURCE Saint Joseph Hamilton Healthcare Foundation

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