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East County patients thankful for surgical robots that treat with less pain, shorter hospital stays

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - The surgical robots allow the team at Legacy Mount Hood to see more patients safely, and have them feeling better much faster. A futuristic, safer surgical system is turning heads nationally and positively impacting East Multnomah County patients at a health center laser focused on being a center for community care.

At Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center, teams are using a pair of Da Vinci Surgical Robots to create better outcomes for patients and getting them home faster and healthier to loved ones.

Like a 40-year-old Gresham woman whose gastroenterologist discovered a cancerous polyp was the source of her bleeding. In the week after her diagnosis, doctors were able to mark the spot with a colonoscopy, use the Da Vinci Robot to remove the cancer, and have her out the door in just one day of recuperation.

COURTESY PHOTO: LEGACY HEALTH - Dr. Greg Starley"She was cancer free, didn't need any other treatments, and was able to go see her daughter play softball that weekend," said Dr. Greg Starley, a general surgeon who runs the robotics program at Mount Hood.

Without the robotics and connections between doctors at Mount Hood Legacy, that same scenario would have taken a month to coordinate going under the knife, required a major incision to remove the portions of her colon, and spend at least 5 days on bed rest at the hospital.

"She would have been living for two months knowing she has cancer inside of her, and that it was growing," Starley said.

That is the power of the robotics surgery team at Legacy Mount Hood. A team of four general surgeons, led by Starley, is using the pair of surgical robots to treat patients. Unlike at other hospitals, which have been either slow to adopt the new technology or reserved it for only major, complicated surgeries, the team at Mount Hood has jumped in feet first.

"We are seeing these incredible outcomes with patients going home with so much less pain," he said.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - A pair of Da Vinci Surgical Robots at Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center are helping patients have less pain while undergoing operations. At times the Da Vinci machine feels like a device straight out of a silver screen space opera. The four arms can move independently, and it whirs and beeps with laser targeting, foot pedals, and a three-dimensional display that provides a clearer picture from inside the body than ever before.

And though all of that seems intimidating at first glance, the surgeons at Mount Hood Legacy describe it as simply a tool, albeit a $2 million one.

The whole time during the procedure the surgeon is inside the operating room, right next to the patient. They control every aspect of the robot — using joy sticks to move those arms. And that extra set can make a difference, allowing surgeons like Starley to be their own backup and deal with more complicated situations without waiting for that extra pair of hands.

The surgical robot does big operations with just four or five small holes. That means less recovery time and pain for patients, with many going home the same or next day. It also is fewer narcotics being prescribed to patients.

"Every time I use the robot I am blown away with how well my patients are doing," Starley said, who estimates 2,000 surgeries using the Da Vinci.

The new system has also significantly reduced the number of hospital infections — a rate that Legacy Mount Hood used to fare poorly with.

"Big surgeries that use an incision all along the rib cage leads to big wounds that are hard to heal," he said. "We started to see those infections go away by doing those same surgeries with just these little holes."

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Dr. Greg Starley is training surgeons across the country how to best use the surgical robots. High-tech care

After returning from service in Afghanistan and joining the Mount Hood Medical Center team in 2014, Starley first began working with the surgical robot.

As a general surgeon he would use it 2-3 times a week, expanding the suite of operations that normally were reserved for urology and gynecology. The main operations were hernias, gall bladders, and colon cancer.

"I was the first general surgeon in the Portland area to really grab on and make it my whole practice," he said, committing to the robot in 2015. "I sort of fell into all this and latched on. It's been really exciting to watch this program grow and impact the community."

His partners began to learn to use the robotics system, creating this talented general surgery group operating out of Gresham.

In 2018 Mount Hood received a second robot at the hospital, leading to half the operating rooms being equipped with the systems, allowing the teams to run even more patients through the improved surgical programs.

"We now have 12 robotics Da Vinci XI systems (at Legacy)," Starley said. "That is more than any other hospital system in the Portland area."

At Mount Hood they continue to lead the charge. All of the staff have been trained to assist a doctor using Da Vinci, so they don't have to wait around for specific employees to show up to work. That means someone like Starley can operate whenever is best for the patient — earlier this week he used the robot to help a patient whose intestines were stuck inside a hernia. That person was in immense pain so they got to the surgery at midnight.

"For our staff it is just routine," he said. "They are some of the best in the country."

PMG FILE PHOTO - Back in 2015 Dr. Greg Starley was working on an older model of the Da Vinci Robot as he was helming the new program at Mount Hood. He highlighted everything — from the nurses and anesthesiologist to the teams that turnover and clean the operating rooms between cases.

"In most places it takes an hour to an hour and a half to turnover a robotics surgery room," Starley said. "We do it in 25 minutes."

And the medical center is now training folks around the region and country. Already this month Starley has traveled up to Washington and to Tennessee to teach surgeons, ad people fly into Gresham to watch surgeries weekly.

"We are helping these surgeons take their first few steps," he said. "I am proud of Mount Hood because we developed a process and system that we are sharing with others."

"We aren't just impacting my patients, but the patients of all those other surgeons," he added.

Another example is gall bladder surgery, which is pretty routine and easy to complete via laparoscopic surgery. But there is a small chance of a catastrophic error taking place during surgery — accidently cutting the wrong tube, which requires major repair work for the patient and a huge financial hit for the hospital. Starley estimates that happens about 1% of the time across the country.

"But with the robot, we can give the patient a contrast which allows the Da Vinci laser to have the ducts glow in the dark, so we can see and not cut the wrong one," he said.

In the 6 years since using the robots, and an estimated 1,000 gall bladder surgeries, Mount Hood hasn't had a single case of a botched cutting.

"Our little hospital has the best technology and highly skilled surgeons, but keeps that home-country feel to get you in and out comfortably," Starley said. "That is the coolest part of all this, we are using robots to make people feel better."


Legacy Mount Hood is hosting a fundraiser to help purchase technology that can be paired with the Da Vinci robots and provide even more benefits for patients — specialized surgical tables that can be paired with the machines and easily adjusted during surgeries.

The Legacy Foundation purchased one of the tables, so now the Gresham team is turning to the community for help securing a second.

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