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Health Spotlight: Robotic tech helps esophageal cancer patients eat pain-free

Health Spotlight: Robotic tech helps esophageal cancer patients eat pain-free

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Eating is something most of us take for granted. We do it three times a day – which adds up to more than a thousand meals a year, but what if you had trouble eating and swallowing? That’s the case for more than 21,000 people diagnosed each year with esophageal cancer, but now, new innovative robotic technology is helping those people eat pain-free once again.

Orange Jell-O never tasted so good! One day after 77-year-old Rudy Bland had part of his esophagus removed, he could eat and drink. That wouldn’t have happened five years ago.

“I wondered how bad it was, and, ‘was I gonna die?’” said Rudy.

Rudy was diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus a decade ago — that put him at risk for esophageal cancer.

“I was just going in for a normal colonoscopy, and that’s when they found the cancer spots,” said Rudy.

Until recently, Rudy would have had to undergo a very invasive surgery involving lengthy incisions across his chest and stomach. Northwestern Medicine Thoracic Surgeon Ankit Bharat is one of the first to perform the premier program.

“It’s a minimal invasive, no muscle cutting, no bone cutting, no rib cutting,” said Bharat.

Using a robot, several small incisions are made in the belly. Through these incisions, surgeons remove the cancerous part of the esophagus.

“We take the food pipe out, we have to replace it with something else,” Bharat said. “So, we use the stomach to make a tube out of the stomach to replace the food pipe.”

The new approach reduces hospital stays from one month to two days. There’s less pain, less risk of infection, and no feeding tube.

Because the stomach is smaller, Rudy now eats eight small meals a day. He hopes, one day, he can soon take his wife out to dinner to properly celebrate their 52 years.

This story was created from a script aired on WISH-TV. Health Spotlight is presented by Community Health Network.