Super Surgeries

High-Tech Surgery is Much More Personal Than You Think.

By Kate Rader | Photos by Joe Stevenson

Medical technology, guided by human hands and hearts, can improve patient outcomes. At WVU Medicine Berkeley Medical Center in Martinsburg, WV, new technologies in neurosurgery and gynecology are increasing patient comfort levels with diagnosis, the surgical process, and recovery.

A VIRTUAL THEATER

You walk into a room surrounded by touch-screen monitors and are handed a virtuality reality (VR) headset. As you put it on, you become immersed into the detailed world of a 3-dimensional brain. No, this isn’t your buddy’s house or a video game. You’ve entered the Precision Virtual Reality Surgical Theater at WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute at Berkeley Medical Center, facilitated by Associate Professor of Neurosurgery and Director of Surgical Neuro-oncology Jonathan Sherman, MD.

 

At WVU Berkeley Medical Center, patients can virtually walk through a 3D model of their brain created from MRI and CAT scan images.

Dr. Sherman, who joined WVU Medicine from George Washington Hospital in 2020, saw a need for technology that could show brain and spine patients a virtual model of their anatomy, helping them to visualize the surgical process and set their minds at ease. The software combines MRI and CT scans to create a reconstructed, 360-degree dimensional model that patients can then “walk through” as Dr. Sherman explains the surgery process. He has seen firsthand how outcomes “are improved when patients have a better understanding of the surgical process.”

The technology—which is used to assist in the treatment of brain tumors, abnormal vascular connections, and spinal abnormalities—is also helpful for pre-op planning and during surgery. The 3D model can be superimposed with GPS-located markers that are accurate within half a millimeter. In a case where a tumor’s location is obstructed to the naked eye, Dr. Sherman says the system can reveal every layer. “We had a patient who had two prior surgeries for a partially obscured tumor we were finally able to remove,” Dr. Sherman says. “It is amazing to see the expression on patients’ faces when they’re able to see what we are talking about.”

Post-op, patients receive a video of the operation to see how and from where their tumor was removed. Dr. Sherman says, “The Surgical Theater Virtual Reality Suite improves the patient experience and is an integral part of our commitment to become a destination center for neurological surgery.” 

 

Dr. Jessica Hott utilizes the DaVinci system to lessen recovery time and improve patient outcomes after gynecological surgery.

A ROBOTIC REMEDY

Patient Eliza S.—like too many women—has spent much of her life in pain. For years, she’s lived with debilitating symptoms three weeks out of every month, experiencing 7- to 10-day periods accompanied by heavy bleeding and constant cramping. Over time, Eliza’s symptoms progressed. Anemia, low back pain, chronic constipation, fatigue, and brain fog persisted, as she worked and finished her doctorate.

For years, Eliza looked for answers, treating her symptoms with heat packs and lots of ibuprofen. “I just got used to being in pain,” she says. After she and her husband moved to Berkeley County, WV, in 2020, she discovered Dr. Jessica Hott, medical director of obstetrics & gynecology for WVU Medicine’s eastern region. “I was resigned to heavy bleeding, pain, and anemia,” Eliza says. “Everyone always told me that it’s ‘normal,’ and when I met Dr. Hott she said, “You know this is not normal, right?” 

Dr. Hott ordered tests over the course of 10 months, diagnosing Eliza with adenomyosis and Stage 3 endometriosis. Her case was so advanced that her appendix had twisted and her intestines had become adhered to her abdominal wall. Traditionally, treatment for adenomyosis requires a full hysterectomy. But Dr. Hott—who has a subspecialty in minimally invasive gynecological surgery—offered Eliza a high-tech alternative.

Dr. Hott and her colleagues at WVU Berkeley Medical Center use the DaVinci XI robot for surgeries such as Eliza’s because it gives them the ability to couple 3D vision with enhanced surgical movements. The DaVinci system’s console allows Dr. Hott to view the anatomy at up to 10x its normal size through a laparoscopic camera. 

In Eliza’s case, she was given an IV injection of a fluorescent dye, which DaVinci’s unique Firefly technology used to highlight and identify her endometriosis lesions. Once marked, the lesions and adenomyoma were laparoscopically removed, allowing Eliza to keep her uterus while providing pain relief and improving her daily life. “I didn’t even realize how much mental and physical effort I was putting into managing my pain so I could live my life,” she says. “I had limited it to school and work because I was so exhausted.”

WVU Medicine Berkeley Medical Center has added several obstetricians and gynecologists that have these very specialized skills, providing area patients with minimally-invasive, robotically-assisted surgeries for other conditions such as pelvic organ prolapse, chronic pelvic pain, and urinary incontinence. “We have the ability to do very complex procedures and surgeries that we would have previously had to refer patients outside the community for,” Dr. Hott says, noting that she recently completed her 100th robotic surgery with zero complications and no hospital admissions. 

In the past, hysterectomies could take two weeks or more for recovery with multiple incisions. Now, all instruments access the uterus through the vagina with no external incisions. “These procedures greatly improve patient outcomes by shortening surgery time, reducing post-op pain and surgical scars, and minimizing or eliminating hospital stays,” Dr. Hott says.

“What I love the most is to help women. One of the greatest joys I have is when someone comes back and says that they’ve had pain for years, but I listened to them and fixed their problem. With this technology, we have all these new tools we can use to find the problem and to fix it. It greatly affects the quality of women’s daily lives.”

Need To Know

For more information about the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute and videos of Dr. Sherman demonstrating the Surgical Theater’s VR capabilities, visit wvumedicine.org/berkeley/services/brain-and-spine/about-dr-sherman/

For more information about the Obstetrics and Gynecology department at WVU Medicine Berkeley Medical Center visit wvumedicine.org/berkeley/services/obstetrics-and-gynecology/

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