TOUGH STUFF: Cancer survivor John Rutledge thanks the staff at St Andrew’s Hospital for his quick recovery.
TOUGH STUFF: Cancer survivor John Rutledge thanks the staff at St Andrew’s Hospital for his quick recovery. Kirstin Payne

Robotic surgery first helps John beat cancer

IT TOOK a $2.6 million robot and a team of surgeons to help Warwick man John Rutledge beat prostate cancer.

A first for regional Australia, the revolutionary robotic-assisted surgery took place at St Andrew's Toowoomba Hospital last week with the use of the da Vinci Surgical System.

The system, which replicates the user's hand movements, allowed surgeons to remove the cancerous prostate through complex keyhole surgery.

Mr Rutledge said he wasn't nervous to be the first patient in the area to use this new machine; instead he was quite excited about the prospect.

"I was overwhelmed, I thought it was great," he said.

"I keep up with the times; it's 2014 not 1950, the surgery has been tried and proven."

Six incisions of less than 1cm were made along Mr Rutledge's abdomen, which is small compared to an incision of up to 10-20cm for a traditional radical prostatectomy.

"The da Vinci prostatectomy is innovative technology that offers extraordinary benefits to patients and revolutionises the treatment for prostate cancer," Mr Rutledge's doctor and urologist Dr Wes Hii said.

"Typically, a patient who has undergone the radical prostatectomy using the da Vinci Surgical System can expect a shorter hospital stay, faster return to normal daily activities and higher patient satisfaction."

The benefits to patients include less pain, faster recovery and less risk of infection.

This was indeed the case for Mr Rutledge who mowed the lawn just a week later.

"I was walking around at the shopping centre only a few days after, no pain killers," Mr Rutledge said.

Mr Rutledge said it was the support of the team at St Andrew's, not just his trust in technology, that made all the difference.

"They treated me like I was a king or something from the top surgeon to the tea lady, they were great," he said.

The chirpy family man was especially thankful for Dr Wes Hii.

"I trusted in my doctors fully. Dr Hii was so caring and explained everything," he said.

"I want to thank the people because they are the ones that control the robot; it's them who do the hard work."

Diagnosed last August, Mr Rutledge said it had been a rollercoaster experience.

"It all came at once, you hear the word cancer and you think, I better start making my will out," he said.

Mr Rutledge was one of the lucky ones, healthy enough to have the robotic surgery as an option. "I've been telling John for years to get checked, it wasn't until we were talking to our neighbour and his surgery did John have a scan," his wife Linda said.

"He was a typical male bloke with a 'she'll be right' attitude."

"But it's not embarrassing," Mr Rutledge added. "The check is only a blood test and it's saved 10-15 years on my life."

Tech facts

  •  Over two thirds of all radical prostatectomies are performed using this technology in the USA.
  •  Initially used in urological procedures, the da Vinci Surgical System will be used in gynaecological, colorectal, upper gastrointestinal and ear, nose and throat procedure.
  •  The da Vinci System consists of four interactive robotic arms and a separate operation console which displays a highly magnified 3D image of the body's interior.

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