If you ever need convincing that we’re living in a marvelous age, take a look at the way medical technology is developing.
The stuff of sci-fi is quickly becoming reality implemented just beyond waiting room doors. Locally, Rio Grande Regional Hospital offers robotic surgery and other surgical services that make undergoing “the knife” more of an awe-inspiring experience than anything to fear. Surgeons, doctors, anesthesiologists, nurses, and other professionals make up Rio Grande Regional Hospital’s surgical teams that embody precision and vigilance. Each member seamlessly carries out their part of the larger task: gently restoring a patient’s body back to working health.
When the patient is a child, Dr. Edward Requenez, Board Certified in Anesthesiology and Pediatric Anesthesiology and Chief of the Department of Anesthesia at Rio Grande Regional Hospital, says it takes a special kind of person to manage that high-stakes situation. “Children are not little adults; their health problems are distinct from what an adult would present with,” he explains. Sick children in the Valley who need critical care are transferred to Rio Grande Regional Hospital, which serves as the pediatric referral center for the area. There they will be in the good hands of specialists who have experience with and knowledge of congenital abnormalities.
Dr. Jennifer “Jenna” Garza, Board Certified in General Surgery and Pediatric Surgery and Chief of the Department of Surgery at Rio Grande Regional Hospital, is one of these special people who takes care of the Valley’s children and babies. “What we’re looking for in a baby is very different from what we’re looking for in an older child,” says Dr. Garza, one of only two pediatric surgeons in the Rio Grande Valley. Babies can’t tell you where it hurts; they don’t have a medical history, and some are born with multiple issues which may complicate their anatomy, especially when they are premature. Head bleeds, bowel perforations, compromised lungs – these are only a few of the complications and congenital anomalies Dr. Garza encounters regularly, as the area has a high rate of these cases, but Rio Grande Regional Hospital is well-equipped to handle them.
“We have a wonderful support team,” says Dr. Garza. “I am so lucky because we are the only hospital south of Corpus Christi which has six pediatric-boarded anesthesiologists. The security of working with them is such a blessing.”
Several years back, Dr. Requenez was the only pediatric anesthesiologist to be found in the Rio Grande Valley. “Now we are six – and the only six – in the entire Rio Grande Valley,” says Dr. Requenez. “We have more board-certified pediatric anesthesiologists at Rio Grande Regional Hospital than some small medical schools do.”
Pediatric anesthesiologists are important team members who do a lot more than put the child “to sleep” before surgery; they have taken additional training to become familiar with critical care issues that pertain specifically to children to ensure their safety and comfort before, during, and after surgery. “The moment a child is entrusted to us, we become the person who watches every heartbeat, controls every breath – who makes sure the body is working the way that it should to recover from the surgery the child is undergoing,” says Dr. Requenez.
Knowing that experts in anesthesia and surgery for children are on the case are a benefit to both the surgeon and the patient’s family, and the doctors do what they can to ease the emotional burden the family is experiencing by answering questions and explaining procedures. “Anticipation and unknown are big stimulators of fear,” says Dr. Garza. “Making parents aware of what’s going on puts them at ease.”
In the adult area of the hospital, Dr. Mario del Pino and Dr. Rene Luna are performing some major surgeries in a minimally invasive way. What used to require a large incision can now be done with as few as four tiny ones – each up to only 2 centimeters! A tool is inserted in each incision; among them is a camera which allows the entire team to have a clear view of the operation.
In traditional surgery, the surgeons and their assistants all have to get involved, handling and managing the various tools required. As of two years ago when Rio Grande Regional Hospital acquired a da Vinci medical robot, the entire surgery could be conducted remotely by a surgeon from a seated console several feet away, which has foot pedals in addition to hand controls to enable them to switch between tools.
“The robot makes such a difference, starting with the visuals,” says Medical Director of the Bariatric Program at Rio Grande Regional Hospital Dr. Mario del Pino, Board Certified in General Surgery. “In the robotic console, you see the image in 3-D and you can enhance and enlarge up to 16 times.” The robot mitigates the vibration of the surgeon’s hands, allowing for more accurate control over their cuts and sutures. The da Vinci robot allows surgeons to practice surgery that is medically pristine and has an element of art to it: A master surgeon’s delicate movements with tiny instruments yield a result that is all to the benefit of the patient. The smaller the wound or incision, the better. This lowers the risk of infection, results in a faster recovery and a smaller scar (if any). Patients spend less time in the hospital recovering, which saves them money in medical costs and time missed from work.
Dr. del Pino leads Valleywide in the number of robotic surgeries undertaken, with over 400 of them under his belt. He is the medical director at Rio Grande Regional Hospital for both the bariatric surgery and the da Vinci surgical programs. He recommends the robot particularly when he has to do revisional surgery (when a patient has had one surgical procedure and needs to be operated on again for any reason. “There is scar tissue and it is more complex,” he explains. But he believes the robot has a bright future for performing many more types of surgery. He performs what is called multi-port surgery with the robot, but he says the future is single incision. “You’ll have just one cut and one arm which will deploy many instruments,” says Dr. del Pino.
The first stages of single-site surgery are already being carried out at Rio Grande Regional Hospital. Dr. Rene Luna, Medical Director of Rio Grande Women’s Clinic in Alamo, Board Certified in Obstetrics/Gynecology, explains that single incision site surgery allows the surgeon to carry out entire hysterectomies, hernia surgeries or cyst removals from a single, small (up to 2.5 centimeters) incision. Because there is a single, small wound that needs to heal, a surgery that would previously take days of recovery at the hospital and up to months at home has been reduced to often same-day release from the hospital and one to two weeks at home. Patients also love that they don’t have to carry the signs of their operation the rest of their lives. “Cosmetically, to the patient, it looks fantastic,” says Dr. Luna. “There is no visible scarring on the belly. We’re excited to be doing this procedure.”
The movement in health care towards minimally invasive care is only part of Rio Grande Regional Hospital’s mission. “We’re hoping to provide additional surgical options to the people of the RGV,” says Dr. Luna. “You don’t have to travel far; the technology you can get in a big city, you can get here.” Echoing his sentiment, Dr. Garza says she returned to the Valley after her fellowship to help ease the difficult situation many families face when their children fall ill. “Our population is such that a lot of families can’t afford to go north for care that may take months. Rio Grande Regional Hospital lets Valley families stay at home and be taken care of in less-stressful circumstances.”
Rio Grande Regional Hospital has partnered with the Texas Institute for Robotic Surgery, demonstrating the hospital’s commitment to bringing the highest level of care and technology to the Rio Grande Valley.