First fully robotic Whipple surgery in Midwest performed at University of Illinois Medical Center

A surgical team led by Dr. Pier Cristoforo Giulianotti, chief of the division of minimally invasive, general and robotic surgery at the University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago, has performed the first fully robotic Whipple procedure in the Midwest.

The operation, also called a pancreaticoduodenectomy, is the most common surgical treatment for cancerous or benign tumors of the head of the pancreas. The procedure involves removal of the gallbladder, bile duct, part of the stomach and duodenum, and the head of the pancreas.

"The Whipple operation is one of the most demanding surgical procedures of the abdomen," said Giulianotti, the Lloyd M. Nyhus Professor of Surgery at UIC. "It generally requires a very long abdominal incision to expose the pancreas and other organs, significant manipulation of the bowel, post-operative pain, and a greater chance of complications."

In 2003, Giulianotti performed the first robotic Whipple procedure in the world while practicing in Italy. Since then, he has performed more than 40 such operations.

When performed using the robotic-assisted da Vinci Surgical System, a few small incisions are made to accommodate the laparoscope and robotic arms to precisely control the movements of the surgical instruments inside the patient.

Although the robotic procedure takes approximately the same length of time as traditional Whipple surgery, Giulianotti says that patients often have less surgical trauma, less blood loss, less post-operative pain, fewer complications, and a faster recovery.

Chicago resident Fred Balkcom, 76, underwent robotic Whipple surgery on Sept. 6. He is recovering in the hospital's Walter Payton Liver Center and is expected to be released from the hospital in the next few days.

Balkcom says he was not afraid to have the new robotic procedure, and he hopes other patients who may need the surgery can benefit from this less invasive method.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 33,370 Americans will die of pancreatic cancer in 2007, making it the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths.

Giulianotti, an international pioneer in robotic general surgery and president of the Minimally Invasive and Robotic Association (MIRA), has performed more than 800 robotic surgical procedures for diseases of the pancreas, lung, esophagus, colon, stomach and liver.

UIC surgeon Dr. Fabio Sbrana was part of the team that performed Balkcom's surgery.

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