HOUSTON, TX – Surgeons at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) recently performed a robotic-assisted lung resection to successfully and rapidly treat a 59-year-old Veteran suffering from lung cancer.

A short time ago, Navy and Army Veteran James Davis moved back to Texas and wanted to obtain his police academy recertification so he could find work as a law enforcement canine handler. Two huge obstacles held him back: early-stage lung cancer and a potentially painful, three-month recovery from traditional open surgery.

“If I couldn’t go through the police training course in February, I would have to wait 18 months,” said Davis. “I had heard about the great surgery program at the Houston VA, so I turned my life and my future over to them.”

Four months ago, the DeBakey VA established a Robotic Lung Resection Program, the first of its kind in the South Central VA Health Care Network. Primary surgeons Danny Chu, M.D., F.A.C.S., associate chief of the MEDVAMC Cardiothoracic Surgery Division and also a assistant professor of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM), and Lorraine Cornwell, M.D., head of the General Thoracic Surgery Section at the MEDVAMC and also an assistant professor of Surgery at BCM, have been extremely pleased with the results.

“We have offered minimally invasive, lung resection surgery using video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery since 2009,” said Cornwell. “However, the addition of the da Vinci® Robotic Surgical System to these procedures has facilitated the more complex aspects such as the lymph node removal and the dissection around delicate blood vessels.”

Traditional thoracotomy surgery involves making a long cut in the side of the chest between the ribs. The ribs are spread apart so the surgeon can see into the chest cavity. A small piece of rib may also be removed to make it easier for the surgeon to take out the lung cancer. The average hospital stay is approximately seven to 10 days, and the incisions and the chest area are painful for several months after surgery.

In mid-February with the assistance of Cornwell at bedside, Chu removed the portion of Davis’ lung affected by cancer using the da Vinci® Robotic Surgical System. Davis was discharged home two days later.

“Mr. Davis’ recovery was quite remarkable,” said Chu. “He did not require any intravenous pain medications and quickly resumed not only regular, but rigious physical activity. Short recovery time is a definite advantage of using the minimally invasive technique with robotics.”

Less than a month after surgery, Davis is in the middle of his police academy recertification course.

“I was very impressed with the care at the VA and feel fine,” said Davis. “Two days after leaving the hospital, I was doing regular push-ups for the training.”

“The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center offers the latest medical and surgical treatments available for cancer,” said David H. Berger, M.D., M.H.C.M., Operative Care Line executive at the MEDVAMC and also a professor of Surgery at BCM. “We constantly strive to open new doors and make new medical alternatives available for our Veterans.”

The MEDVAMC already uses innovative, robotic surgery to treat such medical conditions as spinal fractures due to osteoporosis, prostate cancer, and gynecological issues. Surgeons plan to expand into thymus and mediastinal tumor removal and for ablation of atrial fibrillation in the near future. Only 11 VA medical centers nationwide have a robotic surgical system.