Surgeons at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital call on the latest surgical advances to tackle prostate cancer.

Robotic surgery is relatively new at USC Verdugo Hills, having debuted in January 2016, but the team and program are long-standing. The USC Institute of Urology is a pioneer in robotic prostatectomies — urologists at Keck Medicine of USC perform more of the procedures than at any other hospital on the West Coast.

For Larry Peru, having minimally invasive robotic surgery for prostate cancer close to home at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital (USC-VHH) was more than simply convenient, it was confidence-building.

“The technology is state-of-the-art — pretty cool,” says Larry, who went home the day after his March 3 procedure.

On site at Verdugo Hills Hospital are two highly experienced surgeons: Mike M. Nguyen, MD, MPH, associate professor of clinical urology, and Rene Sotelo, MD, professor of clinical urology at Keck Medicine of USC. Backing them up is a team of expert surgical nurses. “By offering our patients today’s most advanced treatment options near where they live, we can support their recovery and make our personalized care that much more personal,” says Dr. Nguyen, director of robotic surgery at USC-VHH.

The USC-VHH team is utilizing a powerful tool: the da Vinci® Surgical System from Intuitive Surgical Inc. Among its cutting-edge features are three-dimensional, high-definition images, which enable the surgeon to see structures inside the body at a detail impossible with normal vision.

Sitting before a high-tech console, the surgeon controls the surgical system throughout the prostatectomy. Robotic, wristed instruments mimic the surgeon’s every movement, bending and rotating with greater range and articulation than the human hand. “Having these capabilities enables us to be even more precise in removing the cancer and protecting healthy surrounding tissue,” says Nguyen.

“The capabilities of the da Vinci® system, while impressive, are only as effective as the surgeon driving the machine,” adds Inderbir Gill, MD, MCh, founding executive director of the USC Institute of Urology. “Patients at USC Verdugo Hills can rest assured that not only do they have access to the most sophisticated medical devices, but also the most sophisticated medical minds and the most skilled surgical hands.”

The minimally invasive technique requires only a few incisions — each less than an inch in length. The results typically are less pain and blood loss, minimal scarring, shorter hospital stays and faster recovery than traditional “open” surgery methods.

That’s been the story for Larry, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer and an enlarged prostate in October 2015. His cancer was deemed low-risk, so Larry initially opted for surveillance, one of the alternatives Dr. Nguyen outlined for him.

Then, in February, when Larry returned to USC Verdugo Hills for a checkup, he announced he was ready to have the surgery. A busy man with two jobs and a growing family — he and his wife, Yolanda, share four children, four grand-daughters and two great-granddaughters, with another grandchild on the way — he was eager for the next phase of his life, post-cancer.

His confidence was boosted by a friend’s successful experience with robotic surgery, which now accounts for 90% of all prostate cancer procedures. Plus, Larry’s comfort level was reinforced by being able to have the high-tech option near his Atwater Village home. “It made everything easier for my wife, Yolanda,” he says, “so the procedure was a win-win for me.”

Robotic surgery is just one of a series of ongoing developments at USC-VHH, which include renovation of the emergency care department, a high priority for 2016. Other newly expanded services include computer- navigated joint replacement surgery, breast cancer lymphedema procedures, vascularized lymph node transfers and integrated care with Keck stroke specialists.

“Our affiliation with Keck Medicine enables us to treat patients in the Glendale and La Cañada area with the standard of care you would expect from a renowned academic medical center,” says Keith Hobbs, CEO at USC-VHH.

Larry’s robotic surgery went smoothly — and brought the best possible news. The cancer was confined to his prostate and his lymph nodes were clear, so he didn’t need follow-up chemotherapy. Initially, he experienced some minor post-procedure discomfort (“as if I’d been doing sit-ups”) but no pain. With his recovery well under way, he’s currently looking forward a carefree summer. On the agenda: boating on the Colorado River and camping in Yosemite with his family.

By Candace Pearson