A nephrectomy is a surgical procedure for treating a damaged or diseased kidney. A partial nephrectomy involves the removal of the diseased portion of a kidney, while keeping healthy tissue in place. The operated-on portion of the kidney is then reconstructed by the surgeon. A radical nephrectomy is the removal of an entire kidney, in cases of serious illness, such as advanced forms of cancer.

Nephrectomies are used to address a number of medical conditions, including:

  • Infections

  • Physical injury

  • Kidney stone damage

  • Cancers

  • The long-term consequences of hypertension

Your physician might opt for a robot-assisted procedure when the damaged or diseased portion of the kidney is relatively small (a partial nephrectomy). Robotic surgery in more radical cases is less common. Robot-assisted kidney procedures are performed at several Baptist Health facilities in Kentucky and Indiana.

Benefits of Robotic Surgery

It is important to note that a robotic procedure does not mean being operated on by a machine, rather than a fellow human. Robotic procedures are robot-assisted procedures, where the robot is a group of tools used by a surgeon and his or her medical team to aid in an operation. These tools are called robots because they mimic human motions and movements, sometimes with greater precision and less fatigue than we’re capable of.

Robotic surgery offers the following benefits:

  • Smaller incisions than with open surgery, and therefore less blood loss

  • Reduced scarring

  • Lower risk of infection

  • Decreased post-surgical pain

  • Shorter hospital stays

  • Quicker recovery times

  • Faster return to normal living

How Does a Robot-assisted Nephrectomy Work?

At Baptist Health, robot-assisted nephrectomies are performed with the aid of the Intuitive da Vinci system. Intuitive is a leading American manufacturer of medical robots and related equipment.

The Intuitive da Vinci system has three parts:

  • A multi-armed robot for inserting cameras and other surgical instruments in the patient.

  • A vision cart with endoscopic monitors that provide the surgeon with magnified, three-dimensional, real-time images of the surgical site within the body.

  • A computerized panel from which the surgeon controls the robot and performs the procedure.

A robot-assisted nephrectomy is conducted similarly to laparoscopic and other forms of minimally invasive surgery. The surgeon makes tiny incisions for the insertion of a camera – the surgeon’s eyes during the procedure – and other operating instruments for the detachment and removal of kidney and surrounding tissues. However, a robot-assisted procedure has the advantage of greater precision than a human operating alone because robot technology downscales the surgeon’s hand motions to extremely fine movements, reducing the possibility of organ or tissue damage.

Joining the surgeon and the robot in the operating room are the entire surgical team, including the anesthesiologist, the nurses, and a second surgeon or surgical assistant for moving the robot into positions that aren’t mechanically controlled.

What to Expect with a Robot-assisted Nephrectomy

The surgical procedure will take place with you lying on your back. You will be given anesthesia, so that you’ll be unconscious the whole time. The operation will be conducted by means of several small incisions, through which the visual equipment and surgical instruments will be introduced. These incisions will be much smaller than those required by open surgery, reducing the possibility of infection, lessening post-operative pain, and speeding recovery. You will urinate through a catheter until you are released to go home.

A short inpatient stay of two days is common following kidney surgery, with a longer recovery period of four to eight weeks at home. Your physical activity will be limited while the incisions heal. Some pain medication may be required. Your doctor will discuss with you the specifics of your post-operative treatment following your procedure.

Know Your Risk

Baptist Health is committed to being a leading medical provider of robot-assisted diagnosis and surgery in Kentucky and Southern Indiana. If you have questions or concerns about your kidney or urological health, contact your Baptist Health primary care physician or Urologist.