Patients once ineligible for surgery get a new chance at life thanks to robotic kidney transplantation

UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital was the first to offer this type of transplant surgery west of the Mississippi

Aurora, Colo., Sept. 07, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- After more than three years of intensive research and planning, UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital (UCH) is offering robotic kidney transplants to patients with a body mass index (BMI) over 40. These are patients who would otherwise be ineligible for a transplant and be forced to either lose weight or remain on dialysis.

 “It’s virtually impossible to ask a patient to lose 50 pounds when they’re tethered to a dialysis machine three times per week,” said Dr. Thomas Pshak, surgeon with the UCHealth Transplant Center and the lead on the robotic kidney transplant team. “One of the reasons the traditional transplant surgery is risky for larger patients is that it can be very difficult to see the vessels needed to ensure the kidney is properly placed. Robotics allows for 10 times greater vision, therefore allowing us to do the surgery regardless of BMI.” 

 According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), as of September 1st, there were approximately 90,000 patients in the United States on dialysis waiting for a kidney transplant. Nationwide, almost 60% of patients seeking a kidney transplant are overweight and don’t fit the traditional transplant criterion.

 Patients with high BMIs are not typically transplanted in the U.S. because they are part of a high-risk population that experiences increased complications from the surgery. Many patients have comorbid conditions with obesity including diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, sleep apnea, increased cancer risk and infection rates. Most patients with high BMI also have increased visceral fat, which can elevate the risk for cardiac disease as well.

“There are only a small handful of health care providers in the country who can perform robotic kidney transplants on larger patients with good outcomes,” said Dr. Elizabeth Pomfret, director of the UCHealth Transplant Center and chief of the CU School of Medicine division of transplant surgery. “We are thrilled that these patients now have the opportunity to receive a potentially life-saving transplant at our hospital.”

The robot has the ability to produce a magnification 10 times compared to what is visible to the human eye. It also creates a 3-D visualization inside the body. This is extremely important because typically in patients with an increase in belly fat, the blood vessels are further away making visibility during surgery more difficult. In addition, the surgeon utilizing the robot is able to use extremely fine sutures to stitch the vessels more precisely. This technique also eliminates difficult hand positioning that would otherwise need to be done manually inside the human body, and it eliminates the potential for hand tremors. 

 UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital is the only hospital in the Rocky Mountain region offering a surgery of this kind and was the first hospital west of the Mississippi to transplant patients using the robot. Arvada resident, Melanie Torres, is one of only six patients who have received a robotic kidney transplant since its launch this year. She suffered from kidney disease and in the span of just six months, her kidney function dropped from 30 percent to just 5 percent. She wasn’t a candidate for a traditional kidney transplant, but now attributes this robotic surgery for changing her life.

 “I was shocked at the recovery. I was up and walking the next day after the surgery and within six weeks I was back at Orange Theory running and working on cardio. The incision is also barely noticeable. Most people don’t believe me when I tell them that’s from a kidney transplant,” said Torres.

 Dr. Pshak, who is also a professor at the CU School of Medicine, hopes to perform between 50 and 60 surgeries a year using this method.

 “I want to help patients who have been told they are not surgical candidates have an opportunity to live a longer, better life,” he said.

 To learn more about the UCHealth Transplant program, visit our website.

B-roll available here: robotic kidney transplant demonstration


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