Sunderland hospital robot helps golfer get back into the swing

IN THE SWING ... Sunderland Royal Hospital consultant surgeon Kanagasabai Sahadevan admiring Norman McDonnell's golf swing
IN THE SWING ... Sunderland Royal Hospital consultant surgeon Kanagasabai Sahadevan admiring Norman McDonnell's golf swing
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A PIONEERING patient who owes his health to a revolutionary robot says he feels “very lucky” to have benefited from high-tech help.

Norman McDonnell was the first patient at Sunderland Royal Hospital to undergo a prostate cancer operation using a £1.7m robot, which medics have affectionately named ‘Brian’.

Its tiny instruments have a similar range of movements to those of a human wrist which helps surgeons carry out the operations.

The steel trimmed robot, made in California, has sophisticated technology and 3D vision and its use in procedures has helped halve the amount of time patients spend in hospital and reduced the number of complications by two thirds.

Nurses at the Royal named Brian after a robot featured in a TV advertisement for a comparison website.

Former Vaux Brewery worker Norman, 68, said: “I feel very lucky I decided to have this operation as opposed to other treatments available and the care I received in Sunderland Royal Hospital was first class.

“The biggest difference it has made is the feeling I can get on and live a normal life.”

Since his recovery, Norman, a former area sales manager with the now defunct Vaux, is in such good health he was even fit enough to win a tournament at his golf club, Beamish Park, County Durham.

And the surgeon who leads the winning team in the Royal’s operating theatre, consultant Kanagasabai Sahadevan, known as Devan, even visited the golf club to present Norman with the trophy and also take a look at his swing. Explaining the procedure, Devan said: “Brian never does anything on his own, it’s a master and slave system and the man is very much in charge of the machine.

“We make four small holes in the patient to act as ports for tubing eight millimetres in diameter which hold the instruments in place. We make two additional small holes to insert sutures and suction equipment.

“Then we connect the robot to the instruments which gives me the 3D vision and 10 times the magnification of the area I am operating on.

“Because the instruments are so agile and small I can make precise cuts and preserve important tissue which in turn improves patient outcomes.

“The patient experiences less pain, loses less blood, recovers more quickly and spends less time in hospital – on average two days when it used to be four days.

“Now we have complications in 10 per cent of prostate cancer operations, whereas before we started using the robot it was approximately 30 per cent.”

Norman’s operation, back in October 2013, took four hours and 45 minutes, now reduced to under two hours as Devan and the team at the hospital have become more familiar with the robotic procedure.

Norman, who plays golf off a single figure handicap, was back practising nine weeks after the procedure and a further six months later won his sixth club tournament.

Playing in The Doug Whitley Trophy, a seniors pairs Stableford competition, he was partnered by Mike Ryan, from St Gabriel’s in Sunderland.