In early March, Jon Anderson noticed blood in his urine on a Friday evening. Not having any pain or other symptoms, Anderson waited until Monday morning to call his primary care provider, Dr. Steven Rasmussen, a Family Medicine Physician at ThedaCare Physicians-Ripon. He was able to get an appointment to be seen that same day.
Anderson wondered if he might have a kidney stone; he’d had friends who experienced a similar symptom with kidney stones. Dr. Rasmussen agreed that could be the cause, and he ordered a CT scan to investigate further.
“When results came back, Dr. Rasmussen knew it was something more than a kidney stone,” recalled Anderson. “He then confirmed a softball-sized cancerous tumor on my left kidney. We discussed the treatment plan. First, surgery and the kidney would need to be removed.”
Dr. Andrew Maes, a Urology Specialist/Surgeon at ThedaCare Medical Center-Berlin, joined Anderson’s care team. He scheduled Anderson to be the first person to undergo robotic kidney surgery in Berlin two weeks later, using the da Vinci Surgical System Xi robot that had been put into use in Berlin in early March.
“The team was proud to be able to offer the first robotic kidney surgery in Berlin,” said Anderson. “They all assured me that Dr. Maes was very experienced in doing robotic surgery, and that made me feel at ease.”
In fact, Dr. Maes began doing robotic surgery in 2007 while a surgical resident at Michigan State University in Grand Rapids, MI.
“Urology was one of the first specialties to use robots for surgical procedures,” Dr. Maes said. “The robot allows us to work deep in the pelvis with exquisite precision and magnification of vision that allows for more advanced movements in deep body cavities and difficult to reach places. The use of this technology allows for better, more consistent outcomes for patients.”
The da Vinci robot has wristed instruments that will bend and turn 360 degrees and flex like a human wrist. It’s an extension of my hand, in a sense. It also has a 3D camera that provides depth perception and allows us to look and work around corners. That offers a potential safety benefit with improved visualization and dexterity in the body.
da Vinci Surgical Systems is a significant financial investment by health systems. There are currently about 3,000 da Vinci systems in use in the United States. In addition to Berlin, ThedaCare offers robotic surgery options at ThedaCare Regional Medical Centers-Appleton and Neenah.
“I can’t imagine my practice without the robot; it’s always been part of the way I care for patients,” said Dr. Maes. “Through our personalized approach to care, and commitment to bringing the best technology to our patients, we can deliver the level of expertise that patients here in Wisconsin deserve. They do not need to travel to receive the best quality of care, and they are able to maintain follow-up continuity of care with their local physicians and surgeons.”
Anderson said it was extremely convenient to be able to have the surgery in Berlin.
“It was less of a drive for my wife from our home in the Redgranite area for the two days I was in the hospital,” he said. “It also made my pre-surgery and follow-up visits more convenient as well.”
Benefits for Patients
“Using robotic surgery, we are able to make much smaller incisions, which causes much less muscle trauma and leads to less restriction of activities post surgery and quicker return to work times,” said Dr. Maes. “Smaller incisions also equate with reduced blood loss, less need for pain medications, less scarring and shorter hospital stays.”
Anderson said he experienced those benefits, including getting back to his normal life soon after the surgery.
Anderson was cleared to return to his current part-time job driving school bus at his three-week check-up. Just six weeks after his surgery, he played his first gig as a saxophonist in a year.
“The COVID-19 pandemic shut down all of the scheduled performances I was involved with for the past year, so I was very excited to play in this concert with the Big Band Reunion group,” he said. “We did a four-hour concert. It takes a bit of physical stamina to play a saxophone for four hours, so I started practicing about the same time the doctors cleared me to go back to work. At first I could only play for about 15 minutes, but I had three weeks to build up my wind stamina, and I was determined to play this gig. If I’d had more muscle trauma from traditional open surgery, I might not have been able to play, so the robotic surgery helped me get back to enjoying my avocation, too, and I’m grateful for that and my good prognosis.”
Dr. Maes said Anderson’s outlook is good.
“We believe the cancer was totally encapsulated in the tumor and the pathology report showed all of his margins are clear,” he explained. “With the tumor and kidney gone, we don’t expect him to have further issues.”
Anderson said other than the issue with his urine, he’d had no symptoms that anything was wrong.
“The doctors asked if I’d had any back aches, and I had, but at my age – 57 – and after frequently lifting 100-pound logs into the wood splitter to cut firewood, I figured back pain was normal, so I didn’t pay any attention to it,” he said. “I’m very fortunate that I did notice my other symptom and called the doctor.”
Dr. Maes agreed.
“It was good he called his doctor and followed up right away, and that he didn’t ignore his symptom or delay seeing his doctor because of concerns about COVID-19,” he said. “People can be assured that entering a health care facility is safe. ThedaCare does a tremendous job of providing a safe environment for patients.”
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health of the communities it serves in northeast and central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 18 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including seven hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their best lives through easy access to individualized care, supporting each person’s own health and wellbeing. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand unique needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care
Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.
For more information, visit thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.