Arizona's First Robotic-Assisted Living-Donor Kidney Transplant Performed at UMC

Robotic-assisted organ removal could encourage more organ donations.

For the first time in Arizona, surgeons at the University of Arizona Department of Surgery successfully removed a donor kidney using the da Vinci surgical robot at University Medical Center in Tucson.

The kidney was transplanted from a 23-year-old Tucson man into his 70-year-old grandmother on Dec. 15. Both patients are doing well at University Medical Center.

The robotic-assisted surgery was performed by Carlos Galvani, MD, associate professor of surgery and the new director of Minimally Invasive, Bariatric and Robotic Surgery at UMC. Implantation of the donor kidney into the recipient still requires open surgery, which was performed by Rainer Gruessner, MD, professor and chairman of the UA Department of Surgery.

Robotic-assisted kidney removal surgery offers many advantages over conventional laparoscopic surgery, Dr. Galvani said. Using the robot, the surgeon sits in a console a few feet from the patient and views the surgical site through a high-definition, three-dimensional camera. Using hand controls and foot pedals to manipulate the robotic arms in the robotic-assisted surgery, the fully intact kidney is removed through a small incision.

“For the donor patient, a robot-assisted procedure can offer all the benefits of a minimally invasive procedure, including less pain, less blood loss and a faster recovery,” Dr. Galvani said.

Dr. Gruessner explained that while the da Vinci robot was used to remove a kidney, not to transplant it into a recipient, the robotics technology does benefit the recipient because it enables the surgeon to harvest the organ faster, with increased precision and dexterity. “The high magnification of the robot allows us to better visualize and dissect blood vessels, making an intricate operation even more successful for both patients,” he said.

“Robotic-assisted surgery is safe, minimally invasive and offers faster recovery for the living donor. We believe this advancement will encourage people to be more willing to donate kidneys and thus expand the potential pool of organ donors,” said Dr. Gruessner.

Also on the surgical team from the UA Department of Surgery was Tun Jie, MD, assistant professor of surgery.

“In addition to kidney transplant and prostate operations, we also plan to use the robotic technology for bariatric, esophageal, colorectal and solid-organ surgery,” Dr. Galvani said.