Surgeon undertakes first robotic knee operation in Goulburn

Crookwell man Verner Collins is moving more easily after an innovative knee operation, using a robotic machine. Photo: Bronwyn Haynes.
Crookwell man Verner Collins is moving more easily after an innovative knee operation, using a robotic machine. Photo: Bronwyn Haynes.

Verner Collins is almost shedding his walking frame and is moving around more freely thanks to an innovative operation on his left knee.

Save for some swelling and slight pain, the 75-year-old Crookwell man is on the road to an easier life.

“I’m about 110 per cent better...I’m back to normal, doing what I did 12 months ago,” Mr Collins said.

Two weeks ago he became the first person in regional Australia to receive a robotic knee operation. Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Razvan Stoita completed the surgery at Goulburn Base Hospital. 

Dr Stoita has performed the procedure several times in Sydney since the technology became available in Australia last October. But Mr Verner’s operation is a first for regional Australia and Goulburn Base Hospital, where he is a Visiting Medical Officer.

“When I first heard of it, I thought why not give it a go?” Mr Collins said.

As Dr Stoita explains, the small robotic Navio machine enables greater precision, minimises errors and produces a better outcome for patients.

“Most patients have an excellent outcome with a conventional knee operation but the robot allows greater accuracy,” he said.

“The reason we want to minimise errors is because 15 to 25 per cent of patients have some dissatisfaction with their knee surgery. There can be multiple reasons for that.”

One of the most common complaints is stiffness and that the leg is straighter than before the operation.

The machine is equipped with a computer and camera. The computer receives information, including about any deformity, movement in the knee, tension and laxity, from sensors attached to the patient’s leg. The surgeon considers all of this to achieve correct alignment and balancing of the leg when the implant is placed.

Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Razvan Stoita performed the first robotic knee operation in regional Australia at Goulburn Base Hospital two weeks ago.

Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Razvan Stoita performed the first robotic knee operation in regional Australia at Goulburn Base Hospital two weeks ago.

“When we do a replacement (in a conventional way), we have to cut the ligament of the joint that is worn out and replace it with a metal implant,” he said.

“If we make the wrong cut in the wrong place, we’’ll get a different alignment and tension through the side ligament and a different space between the tibia and femur. So we need good control over where and how we cut to achieve the correct leg orientation and balancing.” 

Dr Stoita said the procedure was used on Mr Collins because he had an “unusual deformity.” He was born with knock knees, which gradually “wore out,” worsened by arthritis. In most procedures the surgeon tries to make the leg straight again, but this was not Dr Stoita’s aim with Mr Collins.

“We know that if a patient is born with knock knees and is bow-legged, they will be less satisfied after the operation and won’t feel normal,” he said.

“(But) the robotic procedure is not required in every case. Most people will have a great outcome whether or not the robot is used. It is about trying to identify those patients who will have a bad outcome if I do a conventional knee replacement.”

Mr Collins has about a 20cm long scar on his knee following the operation. Photo: Bronwyn Haynes.

Mr Collins has about a 20cm long scar on his knee following the operation. Photo: Bronwyn Haynes.

Only several Sydney Hospitals have the machine, which costs $550,000. It is not available in the public health system due to the cost. Mr Collins’ operation was made possible by the company’s generosity, Dr Stoita said.

The Crookwell man is not complaining. The former Telecom employee, farm and construction worker said he’d worked hard all his life and his knee joints had badly worn out to almost bone on bone. He was released from hospital last week.

“He did a fantastic job...I’m over the moon,” Mr Collins said.

“The gap between my legs has closed about four inches and I’m moving a lot more freely. There’s a little bit of pain but it’s nothing physiotherapy won’t fix.”

Eventually he’ll have his right knee replaced in the same way.

Dr Stoita, an orthopaedic surgeon of five years, said the outcome was heartening.

“Absolutely, it’s rewarding when a patient says ‘I have no pain, I can do what I want’. In a way I’m not trying to save lives but make them better and more enjoyable. It gives people their life back,” he said. 

The Navio robotic surgical machine allows greater precision with knee replacement surgery. Photo supplied.

The Navio robotic surgical machine allows greater precision with knee replacement surgery. Photo supplied.

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