When Lake Charles resident Thomas Fails' annual physical revealed cancerous cells in his prostate, he was dumbfounded. Not only did he feel healthy, he had hardly been sick a day in his life -- a notable accomplishment for a 73-year-old.
"It's absolutely unbelievable when you hear that you have cancer, especially when you've been healthy and strong as a bull your whole life," Fails said. "It was a hard thing for me to admit. For a long time, I couldn't."
Fails, a retiree who had gone 17 years without missing a day of work, was now forced to become a steward of his own health. He read everything he could about prostate cancer and researched the various treatment options, with some grim results. His age made him a less than ideal candidate for a traditional radical prostatectomy -- the medical term for removal of the prostate gland -- and even if he underwent the surgery, the potential side effects of impotence and incontinence were discomforting. He was also apprehensive at the thought of a lengthy and uncomfortable recovery.
Farjaad Siddiq, M.D., a local urologist with fellowship training in laparoscopic and robotic surgery, had the answer: robotic-assisted surgery.
A modern state-of-the-art phenomenon, robotic-assisted surgery sits on the cutting edge of surgical medicine. Siddiq, the Medical Director of the CHRISTUS St. Patrick Robotic-Assisted Surgery Program, is the only physician who offers the robotic-assisted prostate removal procedure in the entire Southwest Louisiana Region.
"I would encourage anyone who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer to consider this treatment. Going out of town for state-of-the-art care is an option, but it is not always necessary," said Siddiq. "This is an extremely innovative procedure that's offered right here in Lake Charles." The robotic technology, known as the daVinci Surgical System, allows surgeons at CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital to perform complex procedures, including prostate and gynecological surgery, using dime-sized incisions. For most patients, this minimally invasive approach results in significantly less pain, less blood loss, shorter recovery periods and a quicker return to normal activities.
"I had the surgery on May first and had no pain whatsoever," Fails said. "I didn't even need prescription pain killers; I just went to the store and picked up some over-the-counter pain relievers, just in case. Six days after the surgery, they removed the catheter and I was done."
These results are typical, according to Siddiq.
"Patients are usually back to their normal activities in less than a month, compared to two or three months with traditional surgery," Siddiq said. "Five or six years ago, someone Mr. Fails' age may not have been able to have surgery, but with this technology, people who weren't candidates before now have an option."
Traditional radical prostatectomy requires an 8 to 10-inch incision. In robotic-assisted surgery, very small incisions called "ports" -- about as small as the circumference of a pencil -- are used to place mechanical surgical tools into the body. The surgeon sits at a console, looks into a three-dimensional viewfinder that magnifies the surgical field fifteen times, and performs the surgical procedure by using the controls on the console. These movements are translated to the robot "hands," which follow every move the surgeon makes: cutting, clamping and sewing just as the surgeon would in an open incision several inches larger.
When the surgeon moves a hand or uses the foot pedal, the console sends a digital signal through a cable to the instrument cart, where a small motor moves the instruments. Along with greater precision and dexterity, the daVinci system provides increased ability to perform repetitive motions such as suturing, greatly enhancing the surgeon's range of motion, and eliminating any natural hand tremor. Doctors can access and see parts of the body as never before-without large, open incisions.
"Every person has to make their own decision about what treatment is best for them, but I can say this -- everything turned out just the way I was told it would, and that doesn't happen a lot," Fails said. "Today, I'm cancer free."