Photo by Dani Wilson
Dr. James Kliefoth, one of the few surgeons in the area who can operate a Da Vinci robot, was honored for performing the 500th Da Vinci procedure at Christian Northeast Hospital in North County.
The rumors aren’t totally true — robots are not taking over the world. They’re sure helping a lot, though, when it comes to surgery.
General surgeon Dr. James Kliefoth is one of the few area surgeons who can operate a Da Vinci robot, which uses state-of-the-art technology to make laparoscopic surgery less invasive and more successful. Recently, Kliefoth was honored for performing the 500th Da Vinci procedure at Christian Northeast Hospital in North County.
Kliefoth says the Da Vinci robot is preferred among doctors trained to use it. There are four main reasons for this, he says. First, “the camera is superior,” he says. There is a camera for each eye, and each provides the surgeon with high-definition images, which heightens depth perception. Second, the wristed instruments work closely with the surgeon.
“They do what your hand does,” which improves dexterity, Kliefoth says. The third advantage is the surgeon directly controls where the camera is going, as opposed to other robotics that use a separate camera operator. Fourth, the fact that the surgeon sits at a separate table to operate allows for more movement. Kliefoth says this makes the surgeries “less awkward.” From a patient’s standpoint, the robotic surgeries provide a much faster recovery time and a less invasive surgery.
Kliefoth says the Da Vinci robot is becoming much more commonplace.
“There is a steeper learning curve,” he says, but once mastered, most surgeons find the robot easier to use in operations. According to Dr. Kliefoth, there are eight surgeons at Christian Northeast using one robot.
The Da Vinci robot has been in use for about 20 years, according to Dr. Kliefoth, and the number of surgeons able to operate with it is now in the thousands nationwide.
“They’re coming in all over,” he says, “even in smaller hospitals.”
Kliefoth says his original love for the medical field originated in his summer job in college. He worked as an orderly in a hospital, and he says he “kind of fell in love with surgery that way.” He decided to be a general surgeon, he says, because of the variety of activities and skills honed in general surgery.
“We weren’t just doing ears, noses and throats,” he says. Kliefoth has been a general surgeon since 1980 and went back to attend training for robotics in the 1990s when the robot first came to be.
Kliefoth is the only surgeon in Alton willing to use the Da Vinci robotics. He operates on gall bladders and hernias using the Da Vinci, and will add colons to his list.
He says his hopes for the future of Da Vinci robotics are high. Soon, Kliefoth hopes the area’s Da Vinci robots will start to implement a single-site procedure so the surgeries can only use one incision as opposed to three or four. There has also been talk in the medical realms of beginning to use the Da Vinci robots for gynecological surgeries. His biggest hope, though, is that the robot will become even more common in hospitals everywhere.
“It’s the future of laparoscopic surgery,” he says.