Robot performs unique colon surgery for the first time in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) Washington, Kansas’s Elizabeth Baskerville Hiltgen, known to many as Libby, now lives a normal life. But for the past 4 years, life seemed unbearable at times.

“It’s been tough. I have a fairly demanding job. So I was always worrying about if I would have another episode, and trying to balance that with my work life. I am also married and we now have four children,” said Libby.

Libby was diagnosed with diverticulitis. This is a condition when small pouches or sacs, form and push outward through weak spots in the colon.

Libby said the symptoms that she had were very severe lower abdominal pain.

“I was hospitalized up to a week.”

After years of severe episodes, Libby decided it was time to make a change.

“Based upon that had recommendations to have surgery to remove the part of the colon that was diseased,” said  General Surgeon, Dr. Lance Saville.

She was admitted as a patient at Via Christi hospital in Manhattan but her surgery wasn’t your typical under the knife experience. Her procedure was done by a robot.

“Different instrumentation are placed in the patient. Me, the surgeon is controlling the precise movements of the instrumentation, through the console. Again the console, 3D-HD imaging. Again the visualization of the anatomy is unlike I’ve ever seen before. And the precision that the robot allows the fine motor manipulation of the instruments is greater than the human hand. It’s amazing technology,” explains Dr. Saville.

Libby is the first patient in Kansas to have this type of colon surgery done by a robot.

“Her procedure was one that involved removing the diseased part of the colon and we were able to perform that robotically. The additional benefit we were able to do in her situation is what we call the nose procedure. NOSE stands for natural, orifice, surgical, extraction of the surgical specimen.”

Dr. Saville was able to use the Da Vinci surgical system, to remove the diseased portion of her colon through a natural opening in her body.  This allowed her to avoid a major incision.

“Going into the surgery I was told I would have the smaller incision, but they would also have to make a larger low incision. But when I came out of surgery I was told that the robot was so precise they didn’t have to make the larger low incision. So I just have the 5 incisions on my abdomen,” said Libby.

What she thought would be a week-long stay, easily turned into just a few days.

“I have done lots of colon surgeries over many years. I have never discharged a colectomy patient on post op day 2,” said Dr. Saville.

Now, over 3 months later, Libby feels great – living without abdominal pain. Today, she hopes her success will help change more lives.

“Hopefully there will be other people who have suffered from diverticulitis in the past that will consider having the surgery done. I would highly recommend it,” said Libby.

“Libby’s the first, but probably not the last to see amazing surgical results, done by a robot.  Without question, the technology involved in continued advancements that’s evolved, even since we started our robotic program. It’s something that’s going to continue. And ultimately I believe it will be the standard of care,” said Dr. Saville.

Today there are 22 hospitals, with 37 surgical robots in Kansas, allowing more people like Libby, the ability to recover faster and live a normal life.

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