Gallbladder removal surgery goes high tech, scarless at JCL North Mountain

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PHOENIX -- For patients facing gallbladder removal surgery (cholecystectomy) there's a new option that involves virtually no downtime and leaves only the barest hint of a scar. It's a robotic surgery.

The da Vinci Robotic Surgical System is not new, but doctors are finding innovative ways to use it and patients are benefiting in big ways.

"Only recently have the [da Vinci] applications really been expanding," Dr. Rick Low said."It's the same or quicker than standard laparoscopic technology, but it enables you to do so much more."

The newest platform for the da Vinci Robotic Surgical System allows the surgeon to remove a patient's gallbladder through his or her belly button. A traditional laparoscopic procedure to do this requires four small incisions and a week to 10 days of recovery time. Post-op discomfort can last up to three weeks.

That all changes with the da Vinci procedure. There's just one incision through the belly button and it's usually less than an inch.

The FDA approved the platform for the da Vinci to make the gallbladder removal procedure minimally invasive in December. The single-incision da Vinci procedure is only in use at 20 locations throughout the country, and John C. Lincoln North Mountain Hospital in Phoenix is one of them.

Kasia Thimsen, mom of a 7-month-old baby, had the surgery with the da Vinci two weeks ago. The next day, she was back on her feet, "doing everything that a mom needs to do."

Low was the surgeon operating the da Vinci. He and his colleague, Dr. Francisco Rodriguez, are among the first surgeons in the nation and the very first ones here in the Valley trained to perform the delicate procedure.

"This is about a lot more than cosmetics — it's not just about scarless surgery," Low said on the JCL website. "It's about pain. One incision is going to hurt less than four incisions, even if the four are small. Nobody can argue about that. One incision is a real improvement in pain control, and a major benefit to patients, even the ones who don't care about scars."

Thimsen can attest to that. She said her procedure was virtually painless.

Gallbladder removal is one of the most common procedures in general surgery with more than 1 million people undergoing it each year, Low said. The da Vinci procedure can make their road to recovery much smoother.

The da Vinci machine, which was the first robotic surgical system to be approved by the FDA in 2000, is used in several types of surgeries and, according to Low, more single-incision procedures through the belly button are on the horizon.

For more information, visit the John C. Lincoln website at