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In da Vinci Trial, Doctor Testifies that Robotic Surgical Assistance ‘Hastened’ Patient’s Death

Author: Ed Lieber/Tuesday, April 30, 2013/Categories: Da Vinci Cases

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The stress and complications brought on by a protracted da Vinci-assisted prostate surgical procedure contributed to the patient’s death from heart disease, according to a doctor testifying for the plaintiff in the third week of a Washington state jury trial.

Fred Taylor, the patient, may have lived an additional five years, enjoying a better-quality lifestyle, John S. MacGregor, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told the jury, according to a Bloomberg report.

MacGregor pointed out for the jury that based on Taylor’s autopsy results, he had suffered a number of heart attacks in the last years of his life, and likely had even suffered an attack the day after his Sept. 9, 2008, robotic surgery. Blood enzyme tests that measure heart-muscle damage had risen “dramatically” the day following Taylor’s surgery, the doctor added.

“A number of complications put stress on his heart and his body in general,” MacGregor told the jury, as quoted by Bloomberg. “I think the prostatectomy and the aftermath of his prostatectomy accelerated his cardiovascular disease and hastened his death.”

The lawsuit now on trial – the Estate of Fred E. Taylor v. Intuitive Surgical, Superior Court, State of Washington, Kitsap County (Port Orchard) – alleges that Intuitive failed to properly train surgeon Scott Bildsten, who performed a robotic prostate removal on Taylor. Bildsten had never performed robotic surgery unsupervised prior to Taylor’s prostate removal, and struggled with the da Vinci for many hours in September 2008 before eventually reverting to manual surgery – and then emergency care to repair a rectal laceration. Taylor died last August of heart failure allegedly caused by complications from his da Vinci robotic surgery.

Intuitive’s da Vinci is currently the only robotic surgical system approved for soft-tissue surgery in the United States. Bloomberg reports that Taylor’s lawsuit is the first of around two dozen set to go to trial over injuries allegedly caused by the robot.

Almost 1,400 U.S. hospitals — nearly one out of four — have at least one da Vinci system, each of which cost between $1.5 million and $2 million on average, plus annual service agreements, according to the company.

The most common robotic operations include prostate removal — about 85 percent of these operations in the U.S. are done with the robot, according to a report by the Associated Press (AP). The da Vinci also is often used for hysterectomies.

The cost, usefulness and safety of Intuitive’s da Vinci robots are all part of the debate taking place among doctors, hospitals and Intuitive Intelligence salespeople, as well as in the court room. But training remains a major issue, as the Taylor case illustrates.

So far, nearly all the lawsuits filed in the past 14 months alleging injuries from robotic surgery allude to the training regimen for doctors who use the da Vinci, according to the AP.

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