Liz Shaffer, clinical territory associate with Intuitive Surgical Operations, Inc., and Skip Gjolberg, president and CEO of WVU Medicine St. Joseph's Hospital showcase the hospital's new acquired da Vinci Robotic Surgical System during an open house Aug. 8. / Photos by Katie Kuba

St. Joseph’s Hospital fields residents’ questions about new state-of-the-art surgical robot

BUCKHANNON – Surgeons at WVU Medicine St. Joseph’s Hospital have used the healthcare facility’s new, state-of-the-art robotic surgical system to complete nearly 50 procedures in Upshur County, hospital administrators said at a recent open house.

To Skip Gjolberg, St. Joseph’s Hospital’s president and CEO, ‘have used’ is the key phase. That’s because he wants residents to understand that general and gynecological surgeons are the ones behind the wheel, meaning they are operating the new da Vinci Robotic XI Surgical System – and the robot doesn’t act autonomously.

“It’s a super-tool; it’s not autonomous, so we want to make sure people understand that this machine is not going to do surgery without somebody controlling it,” Gjolberg said. “It isn’t a self-driving car. It’s basically an advanced tool for a surgeon to be able to do these laparoscopic procedures using these tiny little instruments that can articulate in a way that they can’t through the traditional laparoscopic (minimally invasive) surgery.”

“So, they can do procedures that they couldn’t normally do – things that you would have to open somebody up to get at – they can do with this,” he added.

The surgeon sits in this console when operating through the incisions using tiny instruments and the 3D high-definition camera.
This is the robotic surgical system the surgeon controls from the above-pictured console.

During a 2023 Hospital Foundation Open House Thursday, Aug. 8, community members were invited to the hospital’s Main Lobby to learn about the robotic surgical system and even see it in action via a demonstration.

The robotic surgical system, manufactured by Intuitive Surgical Operations, Inc., has been in use at the hospital since just after Memorial Day 2023, and it has major advantages when compared to traditional laparoscopic surgery, including the ability to make much smaller incisions, which translates into less scarring; quicker recovery times and returns to daily life activities; significantly less pain; reduced risk of infection; less blood loss; and ultimately, shorter hospital stays, Gjolberg said.

Officials say St. Joseph’s Hospital is the only hospital in the area to have procured access to the da Vinci Surgical System, which can be utilized to perform procedures involving hernias, the gallbladder and hysterectomies.

“It can actually do a better repair,” Gjolberg said.

After making several small incisions, the surgeon sits at a console next to the patient, uses the da Vinci Surgical System’s 3D high-definition camera to magnify the surgical area to 10 times what the human eye can see, and then maneuvers the tiny instruments to perform the procedure.

Liz Shaffer, a clinical territory associate with Intuitive Surgical Operations, Inc., said the surgical system is a fourth-generation model.

“We’ve done over 12 million surgeries, and we’ve been doing this for 28 years, and this is our fourth-generation system,” Shaffer said. “We’re in 69 countries.”

Gjolberg said WVU Medicine has a special arrangement with the company that allows rural hospitals like St. Joseph’s that may not otherwise have the capital money to purchase the machine up-front to pay on a per-use basis.

“That makes it very affordable for us, and we can use our capital money for other things because buying this would have taken a good chunk of our capital,” he said.

Shaffer said that the per-use cost varies, depending on the type of surgery and instruments required for a particular procedure.

“Every use is different; every package is different,” Shaffer said. “Some instruments can be disposable and have one life, while some instruments can be reprocessed through sterilizations. The system will alert us and let us know when it’s time to change them.”

Gjolberg said there are two key advantages to having access to the surgical system.

“Having a robot takes us up a notch in technology compared to other health care providers around us,” he said. “Also, it helps with recruiting and retention of our surgeons because this is what they’re being trained on in residency.”

“For Dr. [Ross] Knowles, it’s going to be great,” Gjolberg said. “For Dr. [Susan] Long, it’s newer for her, but she’s really adapted very well. Then, Dr. Rachel Marteney who’s a local woman that graduated from Buckhannon-Upshur High School and is coming next month, I believe, she’s already fully trained on using this for gynecological procedures during her residency.”

At Thursday’s open house, 2022-2023 St. Joseph’s Hospital Foundation Co-Chairs Lisa Cain and Dustin Zickefoose encouraged residents, businesses and organizations to contribute to the hospital’s 2022-2023 campaign dubbed ‘Our Vision – Your Health: Advancing Surgical Services at St. Joseph’s Hospital.’ The campaign, now in its second year, has a goal of raising $300,000 to cover the cost of not only obtaining the most cutting-edge equipment for the hospital’s Central Sterile Department but also to continue operating the da Vinci robotic system.

Gjolberg said the campaign, now in its second year, has raised just over half that $300K goal.

Anyone interested in donating may make checks out to St. Joseph’s Hospital Foundation, One Amalia Drive, Buckhannon, WV 26201, or find more information about how to donate online here.

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