Home » About Us » News » 2010 News » Mercy Hospital Becomes First In Region to Offer Robotic-Assisted Mitral Valve Repair

Mercy Hospital Becomes First In Region to Offer Robotic-Assisted Mitral Valve Repair

January 19, 2010

In the old Star Trek TV series, Dr. McCoy waved his medical wand for plenty of successful surgeries aboard the Starship Enterprise. While the “medical wand” has not made it to the operating rooms yet, a robot has earned its spot on Mercy Hospital’s surgical team and is leading the way for breakthrough minimally invasive surgery in Western New York.

In December, John Bell-Thomson, M.D., Chair of Mercy’s Cardiothoracic Surgery Department, performed the area’s first robotic-assisted mitral valve repair, a surgical procedure used to treat leakage of the heart’s mitral valve.

“Patients are benefiting from robotic-assisted surgery with less pain and scarring, less blood loss, fewer complications, shorter hospital stays, and significantly faster recoveries,” said Dr. Bell-Thomson. “With the da Vinci® surgical robot, we are riding the wave of the future in heart surgery.”


From left are Dr. John Bell-Thomson, Surgeon and Chair of Mercy's Cardiothoracic Surgery Department; Patient Gary Kelchlin; Lori Miller, R.N. (surgical scrub nurse); (Mr. da Vinci Robot); Dana Schie, R.N., F.A. (first assist); Robert Stricko, perfusionist; and Lauren Nehrebecki, R.N. (circulating nurse)

The Mercy Hospital surgical team who performed the area's first robotic mitral valve repair surgery and the first patient to undergo the robotic surgery, West Seneca resident Gary Kelchlin, reunite for a news conference announcing this new minimally invasive surgical option for Western New Yorkers.

From left are Dr. John Bell-Thomson, Surgeon and Chair of Mercy's Cardiothoracic Surgery Department; Patient Gary Kelchlin; Lori Miller, R.N. (surgical scrub nurse); (Mr. da Vinci Robot); Dana Schie, R.N., F.A. (first assist); Robert Stricko, perfusionist; and Lauren Nehrebecki, R.N. (circulating nurse).

Another team member, Greg Tobias, anesthesiologist, is absent from the photo.


The da Vinci Surgical System® features a high-powered video monitoring system and four robotic arms that are inserted into the patient through small, keyhole-sized incisions. The surgeon is able to control and guide the robotic instruments while sitting at a console a few feet away from the operating table. Acquired at Mercy Hospital in 2005, the $1.5 million da Vinci Surgical System® is also being used to perform intricate urological and gynecological procedures at Mercy Hospital.

West Seneca resident Gary Kelchlin, who recently turned age 60, said when he first learned he might need surgery to repair his heart’s mitral valve after a heart attack last May, robotic-assisted surgery was not even in the picture. “At that time, I was looking at conventional open heart surgery or a more minimally invasive approach using clips that was available in Cleveland,” he said.

After meeting with Dr. Bell-Thomson in November, however, Kelchlin learned that an advanced minimally invasive robotic procedure was a newly available option at Mercy Hospital. “I just didn’t want a big scar and the months of recovery with the open chest surgery,” he said. “After listening to Dr. Bell-Thomson, I had complete confidence in him and decided to have the robotic surgery right here in Buffalo.”

Kelchlin, a retired greens keeper for the City of Buffalo, became the first patient in Western New York to undergo a robotic-assisted mitral valve repair. Within a month, he was back to his normal activities. He described his experience as “amazing” and his entire healthcare team as “even more amazing.”

“Through its high-tech instrumentation and precise movements, the da Vinci® system enhances our ability to repair the valve rather than replace it which is much better for the patient,” Dr. Bell-Thomson added.

Five years after its arrival at Mercy Hospital, the da Vinci® robot is blazing new frontiers in minimally invasive surgery, and like Star Trek, the voyage into the future continues.

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