Kim McCracken would wake up gasping for air.
It happened maybe once a month at first. But then it got more frequent. And it was bad.
“Sometimes I’d think, ‘I’m not going to make it. It’s going to kill me this time,’ ” McCracken said.
The culprit was severe acid reflux. Thankfully, McCracken is doing better now.
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The 57-year-old Selah woman had surgery a few days before Christmas at Trios Southridge Hospital.
The procedure went well, and soon after, McCracken was moving around and feeling virtually no pain.
The happy outcome is thanks in no small part to a surgical technology that’s new to the Kennewick hospital — a da Vinci robotic-assisted surgery system.
Compared with traditional open surgery — the kind often shown in TV or movies, where the surgeon opens the patient up with a large incision — “the pain, the recovery (time) for the patient is absolutely night and day,” said Dr. Ernesto Dizon Jr., who performed McCracken’s procedure.
And the robotic-assisted system offers more precision than laparoscopic surgery, Dizon said. (Like da Vinci surgery, laparoscopic surgery is minimally invasive, using a camera and tools inserted through small incisions to visualize and repair).
Trios got the da Vinci system a few months ago. Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland and Lourdes Health in Pasco also have similar systems.
Before going in for surgery, McCracken said she was a little nervous — mostly about recovery.
But she’s had surgery done by Dizon before and felt confident in his care.
During the surgery, Dizon made a few small incisions and inserted a high-definition camera and surgical instruments attached to robotic arms.
The instruments are “wristed,” meaning they move like a human wrist. But they have even greater range of motion than a wrist and the tools used in laparoscopic surgery.
The camera is 3-D with magnification capability, so the surgeon has an up-close, fully immersive view.
After the camera and instruments were in place, Dizon moved behind a console several feet away. From there, he controlled the instruments, each probe, cut and suture bringing McCracken closer to relief.
After the roughly three-hour procedure, Dizon took a short break and then used the da Vinci system to remove the gall bladder of Lisa Nino, 54, of Hermiston.
Like McCracken, Nino’s surgery went well. “I have no pain at all,” she told the Herald a few days after the procedure. “I’m really surprised.”
Dizon said the da Vinci system isn’t right for all surgeries, but it can be an excellent option for cases like Nino’s and McCracken’s.
It particularly shines by being able to work precisely in tight, sensitive areas, he said.
“I want the community to know this is available. It’s not technology you have to go out of town to have,” Dizon said. “You’re able to do some surgeries in a way — in my opinion — that’s easier for patients and (the surgeon).”
For McCracken, it’s early days yet but she’s already feeling like a new person. Her recovery has been relatively seamless, and the reflux appears to be gone.
“I feel so much better,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about any more late nights of waking up and not being able to breathe.”