Robotic-assisted surgery gives relief from abdominal pain

Jay FitzOur Town Health, Sevier

Judy Caldwell moved to East Tennessee after be­coming enchanted with the Smoky Mountains. She en­joys tending the flowers on the property she recently purchased, playing music and buying and selling an­tiques. Most of all, she en­joys being surrounded by her friends and family in the place she now calls home.


Caldwell maintains a balanced, healthy lifestyle and has not had any major health crises in her life. But two years ago, she began experiencing discomfort in her colon which worsened over time.

Eventually, she was diag­nosed with diverticulitis. Di­verticulitis, or inflammation of the lower colon, occurs when weakened intestinal tissue becomes inflamed or perforates, which can lead to an abscess or blockage in the colon.

At Fort Sanders Regional

After several hospital visits from issues stemming from diverticulitis, Caldwell was introduced to colon and rectal surgeon Sung Lee MD, a surgeon at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. Dr. Lee specializes in colon and rectal surgery with interest in minimally invasive surgeries such as laparoscopic and robotic surgery.

Sung Lee MD

“Mrs. Caldwell had been in and out of the hos­pital with pain and bleed­ing from complications of diverticulitis,” Dr. Lee reports. “We had scheduled her surgery for a later date, but after she presented at the emergency department with GI pain and complications, we moved up the surgery date.”

Last December, Dr. Lee performed a robotic colon resection where he removed a portion of her lower colon called the sigmoid colon. Dr. Lee says, “Because she only had a portion resected, I re­connected the descending colon to the rectum, so she did not did not require an os­tomy bag. She did very well and went home after staying a few nights in the hospital.”

Caldwell says, “Dr. Lee and his nurse, Leisa, were just wonderful. He explained what would happen in sur­gery and he put my mind at ease. I’ve never had ma­jor surgery before, so it was nerve wracking. I was scared about being under anesthesia and worried about healing, but everything went great.”

Robotic-Assisted Surgery

Dr. Lee explains that any minimally invasive procedure, whether ro­botic-assisted or laparo­scopic, allows the patient to have a faster recovery. Minimally invasive, robot­ic-assisted procedures are recommended over open surgeries when possible be­cause patients can return to normal functions faster. Typ­ically with robotic-assisted technology, patients have better outcomes, shorter hospital stays and less pain.

“For this procedure, we make a few little cuts and use a robot to access the inside of the abdomen,” Dr. Lee explains. “The lon­gest cut we make is about four centimeters. With the magnified 3D vision, we can see five to 10 times more than the naked eye can, so we can spare nerves and make careful dissections.”

“Fort Sanders Regional was phenomenal,” Caldwell says. “I have such a heart for the nurses now, seeing everything they do. They were all wonderful, as was Dr. Lee when he checked on me after surgery.”

Despite the high recur­rence rates of diverticulitis, the procedure was curative and Caldwell has had no dis­comfort since the procedure.

Faith, Friends and Family

Dr. Lee explains that pa­tients experiencing GI dis­tress from diverticulitis may have fever or chills, and may notice a change in bowel habits such as constipation or diarrhea, GI bleed, or pain in the lower left quad­rant of the abdomen. If these symptoms persist, he says a medical provider should be contacted. “Once the colon becomes inflamed, it may not go back to normal with­out medical intervention,” Dr. Lee says.

As spring approaches, Caldwell is looking for­ward to resuming her ac­tive lifestyle of walking on trails and antiquing. She is involved with a wom­en’s Bible study, and hosts her nieces, nephews and their children at her home. “Family is just everything,” she says. “I love having them around. It just gives me energy, like I’m being revitalized.”

The retiree says her faith in God has been an import­ant part of her recovery, and she would recommend Dr. Lee and Fort Sanders Re­gional to anyone who finds themselves in a similar sit­uation.

“I am so thankful!” she says.

Same Skilled Surgeons, Newest Technology

In 2004, Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center was the first to introduce robotic-assisted surgery to East Tennessee, and the hos­pital continues to add more robots to the surgical team.

Robotic-assisted sur­gery is precise, minimally invasive and is a highly ef­fective alternative to some traditional surgeries. Com­bined with the surgeons’ skills, this computer-based technology enhances the healing and well-being of surgical patients.

The surgical robotics sys­tem is completely under the surgeon’s control and repli­cates his or her movements in real time. It cannot be pro­grammed or make decisions on its own. The surgeon con­trols the robot’s movements, allowing for greater dexterity and access to hard-to-reach areas of the body.

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