Patient Testimonial — Grace Lee (Robotic Hysterectomy)

I came to United States from South Korea in 1971. I worked here for 28 years as a registered nurse, mostly in the area of hemodialysis—caring for kidney patients—before retiring a dozen years ago. I came to Dr. Joon Song because I had a uterine fibroid that was growing larger and causing bleeding as a result. I’d had the fibroid for many years, and it had always remained small. But in 2009, a sonogram showed that it had gotten larger, and the next year another sonogram showed it was larger still. At that point my ob-gyn doctor recommended surgery, and referred me to Dr. Song.

I met with Dr. Song in October of 2010. Before deciding what procedure to do, Dr. Song referred me for a biopsy. It is unusual to have a fibroid grow this way when you are in menopause, as I had been for 15 years, and sometimes this growth can be a sign of cancer. Fortunately the biopsy was negative, which meant Dr. Song could perform a hysterectomy.  However, he explained that he couldn’t be absolutely sure there was no cancer hiding inside the uterus until after the operation itself.

When I informed him that I wanted him to perform an open surgery procedure, Dr. Song responded that he felt I would do much better with minimally-invasive surgery. “If I do an open hysterectomy, I can finish in about 30 minutes,” he said, “but you will be disabled for a long time afterwards.” He added that he had extensive experience doing minimally-invasive laparoscopic surgery, including hundreds of laparoscopic hysterectomies and myomectomies. But then he told me that recently he had begun doing robotic surgery for hysterectomies, and that he thought this procedure would be better than a laparoscopic hysterectomy in my case. He explained that, similar to laparoscopy, it would require several small abdominal incisions to insert the arms of the robot, instead of one very large incision—which is what happens with open surgery—and that these small incisions would leave me much less disabled. He also said that robotic surgery was just as effective as open or laparoscopic surgery for removing my uterus and the fibroid inside it.

I was very uncertain when he told me this, because I had visions of a robot operating on me instead of a doctor. However, Dr. Song explained that robotic surgery was just like a laparoscopic hysterectomy, except that instead of using the laparoscopic tools, he would be manipulating the robot. “I operate the machine,” he told me. “It follows all my movements very exactly, and makes my surgical skills better.” He played a video showing him performing laparoscopic surgery. Then he showed me a photograph of the robot, and explained how he sits at the console and uses his finger movements to guide the robot’s surgical instruments. He explained that as good as he was at laparoscopic surgery, robotic surgery offered even more precision, and also results in less trauma to the abdominal wall and less blood loss. This meant that I would feel even less discomfort after robotic surgery than I would with laparoscopy, and would also recover faster.

As an experienced healthcare professional, I still wasn’t convinced. I know the kind of complications that can occur after surgery, and I was still nervous about the idea of a machine being involved. I told Dr. Song I would think about it. Over the next couple of weeks I called him several times, and he kept reassuring me. Finally, on my next office visit, he played videos of different robotic procedures, so that I could see how precise the movements of the robot are as the surgeon guides it. He also said that if necessary, he could always convert to a laparoscopic approach during the procedure. “I can do the whole procedure laparoscopically if that’s what you really want,” he added, “but from my experience I truly believe that the robotic procedure will benefit you more.”

By this time I was convinced. I trusted Dr. Song, and after everything he had told me I trusted the robot. “Let’s go ahead,” I told him. The procedure was scheduled for the morning of Monday, December 13. Dr. Song finished the operation around 12 noon. When I woke up, I couldn’t believe how good I felt. I didn’t feel any noticeable pain or discomfort at all. That very day, I was up and walking around in the hospital and able to use the bathroom unaided. I felt so good that I wondered if for some reason Dr. Song had decided not do the hysterectomy after all. When I told him this, he laughed. “I can show you the pathology report,” he said. “I definitely took your organs out!” He added that the surgery had gone very well with very little blood loss, and that he’d found no traces of cancer.

They kept me in the hospital for two days—not because of the surgery itself, but because they wanted to monitor my blood sugar and blood pressure. While I was there, a friend of mine came to see me who has a benign ovarian mass that needs to be removed. When she saw how good I looked, she said on the spot, “I want Dr. Song to use the robot to operate on me!” In fact, she’s scheduled to have her surgery with Dr. Song next week.

On Wednesday, I was discharged and returned to my residence in Queens. I had taken painkillers while I was in the hospital, but I stopped these when I got home, because I live alone and didn’t want to experience the side effects. I figured I would take Motrin, but I was feeling so pain-free, I didn’t even need that! I was so amazed that I called up Dr. Song to thank him.

One week after the operation, I was able to walk around the neighborhood and visit my son, who lives downstairs from me. Two weeks after the operation I was driving again. On Christmas Day, I traveled to Westchester with my son to visit my daughter’s family. I have an 11-year-old granddaughter and a 9-year-old grandson. They were happy and surprised to see me so soon after my operation. “Grandma, you’re here!” they shouted. My daughter was very happy as well. “I wasn’t sure you would be able to make it,” she said. “I feel great!” I replied.

It’s now three weeks since my procedure, and I feel as if I never even had an operation. I still can’t believe it. I have no problems and no pain. Dr. Song is an excellent surgeon, which is why I’ve called him again and again to say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I also told him that if he has any other patients who are considering robotic surgery but are nervous about it, as I was, that I would be more than happy to talk to them and tell them what a great experience it was for me!