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Health Team

Robot removes tumors at UNC

Posted August 31, 2010 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated September 1, 2010 1:47 p.m. EDT

— On Aug. 9, Gabrielle Gutierrez, 15, of Jacksonville, was a patient in a new type of surgery at UNC Hospitals.

Last March, the teen noticed pain in her throat and had difficulty speaking and swallowing.

“When she first got sick, we were thinking strep, mono - you know, just the childhood things that eventually come about,” her mother Katherine Gutierrez said.

But CAT scans revealed a large tumor. Though not cancerous, it was still serious because it was blocking Gabrielle’s airway.

UNC otolaryngology surgeons Dr. Adam Zanation and Dr. Carlton Zdanski used the DaVinci Robot to remove the tumor in her neck.

Zanation said the standard surgical option is more involved. An incision is made down the lip and into the neck. The jawbone is then cut.

“I couldn't imagine her having to be cut,” Gutierrez said.

Instead, everything was done through the mouth.

The surgeon sits at a separate console, controlling the robot's arms, and uses a laser to cut into the tongue and remove the tumor.

Gabrielle went home in two days.

“The recovery time was like really easy. I wasn't even on pain medication the second day, which is really cool,” she said.

Since March, UNC surgeons have used the robotic approach on eight adult patients removing cancerous tumors from their necks.

Doctors believe Gabrielle's case was the first such operation in a child in North Carolina.