MAYWOOD, IL – Avid golfer Frank Trombetta was looking forward to a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play St. Andrews Links in Scotland, home to one of the oldest and most iconic golf courses in the world.
Then he was diagnosed with lung cancer. The early-stage cancer was treatable, but a surgeon told Mr. Trombetta it would take three months to recover from surgery, and he would have to cancel his trip.
So Mr. Trombetta came to Loyola University Medical Center thoracic surgeon Wickii Vigneswaran, MD, for a second opinion in February. Dr. Vigneswaran, division director of thoracic surgery, specializes in lung cancer and other diseases of the lungs. Dr. Vigneswaran offered to perform a less-invasive procedure that would enable Mr. Trombetta to recover in time to make the trip in late April.
Using the robotic da Vinci® Surgical System, Dr. Vigneswaran removed the lower third of Mr. Trombetta’s right lung. Mr. Trombetta spent three days in the hospital, and was back on the driving range after just five weeks.
By comparison, conventional open surgery would have required seven to 10 days in the hospital and 10 weeks recovering before Mr. Trombetta could even swing a golf club.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Mr. Trombetta, of Oak Brook, Illinois, who turns 74 in April. “My recovery has been phenomenal. It’s been way better than my expectations.”
The robotic system allows a surgeon to operate through a few small incisions. Operating from a workstation, the surgeon views a magnified, 3D, high-definition image of the surgical site. Movements by the surgeon's hand or wrist are translated into highly precise movements of surgical instruments. The surgeon is completely in charge, and the robot makes no decisions on its own.
Dr. Vigneswaran performs most of his surgeries with minimally invasive techniques, including da Vinci robotic surgery and video-assisted thoracic surgery. These methods generally result in smaller scars, less pain, shorter hospital stays and faster recoveries.
In Mr. Trombetta’s surgery, Dr. Vigneswaran used the robotic system to make four small incisions. Two incisions were five millimeters (about one-fourth inch) wide and two incisions were 2.5 centimeters (one inch) wide. By comparison, conventional open surgery to remove a lung tumor requires an incision 10 to 15 centimeters long, Dr. Vigneswaran said.
Mr. Trombetta, has been playing golf for 45 years. During the season, he plays four days a week, and he has a handicap of 14. “For me, golf is a way of life,” he said.
Mr. Trombetta is among 16 members of the Beverly Country Club in Chicago who will travel to Scotland April 23 for a week of golf. They will play a friendly competition with 16 members of the Butterfield Country Club in Oak Brook.
The highlight will be on April 27, when Mr. Trombetta will play the Old Course at St. Andrews, known as the home of golf. Golfers, from duffers to champions, have been playing there for 600 years. It’s a frequent site of the British Open.
The seaside course has no trees or hills, but plenty of sand traps and a famous 700-year-old stone bridge. “All the great players who have every lived have played there,” Mr. Trombetta said. “If I could play one golf course on the planet, it would be St. Andrews.”