YOUNGSTOWN - In the past, area patients facing major surgeries looked to larger markets for their health care.
But that is changing thanks to the St. Elizabeth Robotic Surgery Center in Youngstown.
"I think people in the area often feel like they need to go to Cleveland to get the best care," said Dr. Daniel Ricchiuti, a board-certified urologist and director of robotic surgery at the center. "We've done everything in our power to bring [the best care] here locally."
Dr. Daniel Ricchiuti, a board-certified urologist and director of the St. Elizabeth Robotic Surgery Center in Youngstown, prepares for a procedure at the surgeon’s console with Kelley Varie, coordinator of the robotic surgery. (File photo/Mary of Humility Health Partners)
Opened by Humility of Mary Health Partners in July, the center brings together a specialized team of surgeons and nurses to ensure patients make it through surgery and subsequent recovery as quickly and seamlessly as possible, according to Ricchiuti.
Patients do better when a specialized group of people are caring for them because the care givers know their needs and what processes to use to avoid complications specific to minimally invasive surgeries, Ricchiuti said. Although patients have always received specialized care, those recovering from minimally invasive surgery had previously been cared for in a unit with those recovering from large incision surgeries, a set-up the new center will change, he noted. The new center will also offer recovery rooms that accommodate loved ones staying with patients.
"[The center] provides a specialized care that is not offered in this region, even compared to Cleveland and Pittsburgh," Ricchiuti explained. "It's a place where if people are thinking about going to Cleveland or Pittsburgh, we want them to think local.
"It definitely makes a big difference in recovery being around family and friends. It's the little things like traffic, parking and finding the room that causes a lot of stress (for visitors); you don't have that here like you do other places."
Since 2007 St. Elizabeth's has been using the da Vinci Surgical Robot by Intuitive Surgical Inc., playing an instrumental role in bringing the technology to the region- having the only robot in nine contiguous counties.
Originally focusing on uriological procedures, the unit has grown to include gynecolocial and thoracic procedures, as well. Surgeries typically done through large incisions, such as those for the prostate, kidney, bladder or lungs, are now completed by making five little, non-invasive incisions that cause less nerve damage and get patients out of the hospital and back on their feet quicker. The incisions are made by a machine controlled by a surgeon and are much more precise, with less blood loss than large incisions, making recovery faster and far less painful.
"It's remarkable watching how patients recover," Ricchiuti said. "[We] try as much as we can to interrupt lives as little as possible...the goal is to make it just a little bump in the road rather than a massive event in their lives."
And the quicker, easier recovery is the most obvious benefit of the robotic surgery, Ricchuiti noted.
"It's most gratifying when a patient comes back a week later and says they don't even feel like they had surgery," he said. "[It's] very gratifying as a doctor to be able to help people with as little interference as possible. We who do it take a lot of pride in making the incision as small as possible."
Since Humility of Mary Health Partners is a non-profit organization, it is able to offer the technology at no cost difference to patients.
"St. Elizabeth's is not making any money on it," Ricchiuti said. "They made a big decision based on the right thing to do, for the right reasons."
And the new center in Youngstown offers a clean, safe location, he added.
"A lot of money has been invested in remodeling and making it safe," he explained. "It's not a case of old versus new (Boardman facility)."
Over 900 robotic surgery procedures have been completed since 2007 and the unit continues to grow, Ricchiuti said. Currently the robot is in use five days a week.
"Word is out and people are seeking this kind of surgery," he said.
Although the robotic surgery is only offered at the Youngstown and Warren facilities, Ricchiuti said the growing Boardman facility, which recently revealed plans for a new addition, could possibly offer the service in the future.
"There aren't plans as of now, but I could see it being an option sometime down the road," he said.
When Liberty Township Fire Chief Mike Durkin needed a prostatectomy due to prostate cancer in March 2010, he talked with several men who had the surgery, some the old way and others with the new technology, and found that the big difference was recovery.
"I went in on a Tuesday morning and left on Wednesday afternoon," he said.
With five small holes and a couple stitches in each, Durkin said he was up and moving around within days and there was little effect on nerves controlling body functions, making recovery easier.
"I was back to work the following week," he noted. "I don't even see the scars anymore."
Only 50 at the time and facing his first major surgery in addition to the cancer, Durkin said the ease of surgery and recovery helped relieve the stress caused by his health crisis. He said Ricchiuti, who performed the surgery, introduced him to the surgical team prior to the procedure and fully prepared him for the process.
"It was exactly how he said it was going to be and they have it down to a science there," he said. "I really believe it's a great thing, the way to go."
Kevin Howell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org