Making weight loss surgery easier for patients
Rosa Vazquez says she has lost more than 30 pounds and reduced her need for diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol medications by half after undergoing a minimally invasive surgery at UI Health that requires fewer incisions than standard robotic weight-loss surgeries.
Vazquez, 40, from West Lawn, has a family history of diabetes and has struggled with obesity-related health conditions for most of her life. She decided to undergo the surgery at UI Health — the University of Illinois Chicago’s health system — because nothing else had worked for her and she wanted to prolong her life.
“I have been on medications for so long, but now I am talking only half the doses I needed before. My goal is to not take any medications,” Vazquez said. “I have more energy. I can do things like walk up the stairs without getting short of breath. I haven’t been able to do these things for 20 years.”
Vazquez’s doctors say this is the first time the weight-loss surgery, called a sleeve gastrectomy, has been performed with robotic surgery techniques using a single-port robot, which operates through a single incision.
“The single-port robotic approach is minimally invasive and has single incision compared to traditional multi-port laparoscopic or multi-port robotic procedures — this means the surgery is more cosmetic, less invasive and more comfortable for patients,” said Dr. Francesco Bianco, a UI Health surgeon and UIC associate professor of surgery at the College of Medicine who specializes in robotic and metabolic surgery.
“There is just one tiny cut on the side of the belly button,” Bianco said. “This helps to reduce patient fears about the surgery and with only one incision, patients generally have less pain and a faster return to normal activity following the procedure.”
During Vazquez’s surgery, Bianco and his colleagues removed about 80% of her stomach to aid weight loss.
“Diet and exercise alone work for less than 10% of people in the long term,” said Dr. Chandra Hassan, UI Health surgeon and director of the Bariatric Surgery Program. “This is because there are a number of metabolic processes in the body that contribute to obesity and diabetes that are unaffected by these approaches. With surgery, we can remove part of the stomach and address things like hunger hormones with much more long-term efficiency.”
“While surgery is not a cure for obesity or related health conditions, it does put the diabetes into a kind of instant remission of up to 90%,” said Hassan, who was on Vazquez’s surgical team.
The new procedure opens doors for more patients to access this kind of treatment for obesity. Bianco said that the less invasive approach also could mean that, one day, sleeve gastrectomies may be done in the outpatient setting, where the patient goes home the same day after surgery.
Bianco and Hassan performed Vazquez’s surgery in March, after planning and practicing for the first-of-its-kind procedure in UIC’s Surgical Innovation and Training Laboratory at the College of Medicine.
UI Health performs about 400 metabolic surgeries each year, making the hospital one of the busiest in Chicago for this type of care. In the last two years, about three-quarters of these surgeries have been done with robotic technology.
UIC Professor and Head of Surgery Dr. Enrico Benedetti said the hospital expects to expand its capacity for robotic and other surgeries beginning this fall, when the UI Health Specialty Care Building is expected to open. The building will be the home of a new outpatient surgery clinic.
“Our surgical programs have been operating at capacity for many years and with new space for procedures in the Bruno and Sallie Pasquinelli Outpatient Surgery Center, we will be able to care for more patients with innovative and minimally invasive surgical techniques such as this one, led by Dr. Bianco and Dr. Hassan,” said Benedetti, who is also the Warren H. Cole Chair In Surgery.
The UI Health Bariatric Surgery Program has been recognized by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, by Aetna as an Institute of Quality, and by Blue Cross Blue Shield as a Blue Distinction Center+ for Bariatric Surgery.