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Miriam Surgeon Performs State’s First Robotic Thoracic Surgical Procedure

Ikenna Okereke, MD
Ikenna Okereke, MD  

Ikenna Okereke, MD, chief of thoracic surgery at Rhode Island Hospital and The Miriam Hospital, has become the first surgeon in Rhode Island to perform a thoracic (chest) surgical procedure using minimally invasive robotic technology.

The technology allowed Okereke to remove and biopsy what turned out to be a benign tumor in the patient’s mediastinum, or the area of the chest cavity between the lungs, with just a few small incisions between the ribs on the patient’s side.

Traditionally, surgeons would have to split the patient’s breast bone or make a long, open-chest incision to access the mediastinum, usually resulting in a week-long hospital stay and two-month recovery period. With the robotic thoracic surgery, the patient was home within a few days.

Okereke points out that the mediastinum is a confined space that contains many vital structures in close proximity to each other, making it a challenge to access and visualize the mass being removed or biopsied.

“The surgical robot gives us access inside the chest cavity and mediastinal tissues through tiny incisions, providing better, three-dimensional visualization and improved dexterity and manipulation,” he said, adding that the procedure has been shown to result in significantly less post-operative pain, less blood loss, less scarring and shorter recovery times than traditional open mediastinal surgery.

The use of robotic thoracic surgery, currently offered by Okereke and fellow thoracic surgeon Thomas Ng, MD, is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Surgeons choose the best approach for each individual patient, taking into account such factors as the patient's condition, medical history and anatomy. The Miriam Hospital has a surgical robot and operating room dedicated exclusively to robot-assisted procedures, including thoracic, renal, gynecologic and prostate surgeries.

Okereke and Ng are both members of University Surgical Associates and hold academic appointments at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.