June 24, 2008 The rise of robotic surgery has marked a new age in medical science and one of its pioneers has just reached a major milestone. Dr. W. Randolph Chitwood, Jr. has performed his 400th robotic-assisted mitral valve repair at Pitt County Memorial Hospital.
A globally recognized cardiothoracic surgeon, Chitwood’s robotic-assisted surgery training center at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University (ECU) was the first site in the US to offer formal training in robotic-assisted mitral valve (a dual flap valve in the heart located between the left atrium and left ventricle) repair procedures. “By integrating computer-enhanced technology with the surgeons’ technical skills, robotic-assisted procedures enable surgeons to perform better surgery in a manner never before experienced,” said Chitwood
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Chitwood’s pursuit to improve minimally invasive cardiac surgery began in 1994 and he performed the first minimally invasive mitral valve repair in North America in 1996. Recognizing that endoscopic methods already used in surgery on other parts of the body could provide better visibility and access to the mitral valve, Chitwood devised a set of special instruments to simplify the repair procedure. In 1999, he applied his endoscopic expertise to robotic technology and contributed to the development of the $1.5 million da Vinci Surgical System. The year 2000 saw Chitwood use the da Vinci System to perform the first complete, robotic-assisted mitral valve repair in North America (it was just the second repair of its kind worldwide) as part of a trial. As a result, the FDA approved the robotic-assisted mitral valve repair procedure in 2002 and several thousand repairs have taken place around the world since then.
This 400th milestone is a significant indication of the future for robotic-assisted cardiac surgery, as surgeons are now being trained to perform this highly complex mitral valve repair procedure through Chitwood’s program. Eleven cardiac surgeons from across the US observed the historic procedure while attending a two-day training program at the Brody School.