Robot arms ensure fast recovery in thoracic surgery

Dr Aneez Ahmed successfully operated on Madam Woo Quai Kuen using robot arms. The 68-year-old cook was discharged three days after a lump in her lung was removed.
Dr Aneez Ahmed successfully operated on Madam Woo Quai Kuen using robot arms. The 68-year-old cook was discharged three days after a lump in her lung was removed.PHOTO: MIKE LEE FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

BENT over a console 3m away from his patient, Dr Aneez Ahmed represents the new face of thoracic surgery.

Robot arms keep his instruments stable as he makes tiny, precise movements through incisions barely a centimetre wide.

He is the first local surgeon to be fully accredited to perform such surgery in this manner.

But he is looking to teach this method of surgery to other doctors, both locally and overseas.

"Our idea is that using this method, we can get people back to society faster," said Dr Aneez, who is chief of Tan Tock Seng Hospital's (TTSH) thoracic surgery division. "I think this method is here to stay."

Most of his patients are early- stage lung cancer patients who go under the knife to have tumours removed.

Unlike conventional open surgery, which involves a large cut about 8cm long, robotic surgery is much less invasive and patients recover faster.

This means they can go for follow-up treatment - such as chemotherapy - almost immediately, rather than having to wait for up to six weeks for their wounds to heal.

It also has an edge over other minimally invasive techniques using video cameras, said Dr Aneez, as surgeons get a clearer, 3D view of the patient's insides.

"The video camera is operated by hand, so you get a lot of shakes and fuzziness," said the senior consultant. "But when you can see better, you can do the surgery better. It's safer."

Dr Aneez has performed more than 120 such operations since 2012, when TTSH first started offering the procedure.

He is one of two surgeons in Singapore who can perform this surgery.

The other is also from TTSH.

One patient who has gone under the knife is 68-year-old Madam Woo Quai Kuen, who discovered a lump in her lung during a regular health check last year.

Dr Aneez made five incisions to remove it - one each in her front and side, and three on her back.

She was discharged three days after the surgery, and said she felt very little pain afterwards.

"I recovered very quickly because the wounds were not big," said the cook. "To me, the operation was a success."

linettel@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2015, with the headline 'Robot arms ensure fast recovery in thoracic surgery'. Print Edition | Subscribe