The UR Medicine Transplant team is the first in the Northeast to perform robotic-assisted transplant surgeries for kidney recipients.
The first recipient to receive a living donor organ robotically using the da Vinci Robotic surgery Systemat UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital underwent surgery in May. Odesi Junor of Brockport, a certified registered nurse anesthetist who works in SMH’s operating rooms, suffered from hereditary polycystic kidney disease and got a second chance at life through an altruistic kidney donation. The second robotic recipient case took place in August.
A year ago, UR Medicine began using the robotic-assisted technique for living donors, to remove their kidneys for transplant. The significant benefits include minimally invasive surgery, more precision due to better optics and 3D technology, and a shorter recovery period. This prompted transplant surgeon Randeep S. Kashyap, M.D., M.P.H., to consider expanding the use of robotic technology to kidney recipients.
Transplant technique evolves
Robotic surgery is the next evolution of minimally invasive transplantation. With robotic technology, the surgeon performs the operation using small incisions and equipment, but sits across the room at a computer console to direct the robot and surgical instruments virtually. As the optics are of an even higher quality, the precision is further improved. The incisions are even smaller, thus less pain, faster recovery and fewer incidence of wound complications.
Under the leadership of Kashyap, UR Medicine has successfully performed more than 25 cases using robotic technology to remove donor kidneys for transplant, in addition to the two kidney recipient cases.
Kashyap trained extensively for the robotic technique with support from his UR Medicine Urology colleagues, who provided 3D printed simulation models, as well as surgeons at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, one of only a handful of centers in the nation using robotics for recipient surgeries.
“We are excited to be the first in the Northeast to offer this innovative robotic-assisted technique, with benefits that further improve care for our patients in Upstate New York, both living donors and now recipients,” Kashyap said.
“And it broadens the patient population we can help,” he added. “For those individuals who are overweight or obese, who in the past were often unable to undergo transplantation due to potential complications, this technique is truly a game-changer. We can now offer more second chances by providing life-saving transplants to wider range of patients.”
Donor was ‘God-sent’
Kidney recipient Odesi Junor was born with polycystic kidney disease, passed down from her father, who died in 2000 in part as a result of the hereditary condition. Odesi went undiagnosed until she began to have health issues.
She suffered quietly with the condition for several years, telling few friends and family members about her struggles. “I didn’t want it to define me,” she said.
But in early 2019, her health worsened and she began preparing for peritoneal dialysis, a grueling daily treatment performed at night while a patient sleeps, which would allow Odesi to work during the day but would inevitably take a toll on her body.
At that time she considered opening up about her situation, possibly seeking a living donor, but she was reluctant to ask anyone for such a gift.
And that is when an altruistic living donor, who after months of testing had just been approved for donation by the UR Medicine Transplant team, offered a kidney that was a perfect match.
“I was shocked,” Odesi said of the generous individual who she still has not met, who wished to remain anonymous even to the recipient. “I was prepared to be on dialysis for at least five years. My donor was God-sent, risking their life for a total stranger.”
The fact that robotic-assisted transplantation was being introduced at UR Medicine was another miracle, said Odesi, who as a Jehovah’s Witness cannot accept blood transfusions during surgery. The robotic technique eliminated the need for that.
Odesi now sees her future as bright and is excited to get back to her position in the operating room, and to experience life with a different perspective. “I now have a brighter and healthier tomorrow,” she said.
“Our talented, driven team continually works to expand the offerings of leading-edge treatments for patients in need of transplants, as seen with this new use of the da Vinci technology,” said Hernandez-Alejandro. “This program provides innovations available nowhere else in the Northeast, thanks to the dedication of Dr. Kashyap and the kidney transplant team.”
UR Medicine Transplant provides care to patients across Upstate New York and northern Pennsylvania, offering kidney, liver, pancreas and heart transplants, as well as a through UR Medicine’s Golisano Children’s Hospital. A significant focus is on living donor kidney and liver transplants, including a paired kidney exchange program.