CarePoint Health is the company that runs Christ Hospital, Bayonne Medical Center, and Hoboken University Medical Center.
“Even though I’m technically retired, this is something I found exhilarating,” said the doctor, who got his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard.
Smith doesn’t only know the technology from having seen it performed elsewhere, he also underwent it himself, and so knew firsthand the medical benefits derived from the technology.
“I had almost none of the usual problems that people have from open surgery,” he said.
On Feb. 3, Smith, assisted by Dr. Nayel Helmy and supported by a specialized team of nurses, performed two pioneering robotic surgeries (a hysterectomy and the removal of a complex ovarian mass) at CarePoint’s Christ Hospital.
Both patients are recovering well and were discharged from the hospital the following day.
The surgeries represent a breakthrough for health care in Hudson County. Previously, patients had to travel out of the county or out of state to find the technology and a trained physician to perform robotic surgery. Now, for the first time, patients have access to a minimally invasive robotic surgery program in Jersey City.
The da Vinci robot at CarePoint Health—which inevitably had to be nicknamed “Mona”—allows surgeons to operate through just a few small, minimally invasive incisions.
Using a magnified 3D high-definition vision system and wristed instruments that bend and rotate far greater than the human wrist, a surgeon can operate with enhanced vision, precision, dexterity and control. The robot translates his or her hand movements into smaller, more precise movements of tiny instruments.
Although the robotic platform is currently being used for advanced gynecologic surgery, Smith said, the hospital will offer similar expertise for patients needing urologic procedures, general surgical procedures and certain thoracic procedures.
Smith has been operating robotically for over seven years and brings gynecologic and surgical talent as well as organizational skills to the program.
Trained in Obstetrics and Gynecology, GYN Oncology, and General Surgery, Smith is one of the first gynecologists certified to use the da Vinci robotics platform, and he offers this additional level of minimally invasive surgery to his patients.
Director of the center
As co-Director of the CarePoint Health Cancer Center at Christ Hospital, Smith will help coordinate patient oriented navigation through diagnostic and treatment phases of all patients with malignancies.
Originally from Oklahoma, Dr. Smith graduated from both Harvard College and Harvard Medical School. He began his General Surgery residency at the Massachusetts General Hospital. During this surgical residency, which he completed in 1979, he also completed a residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center. He then completed a Fellowship in Gynecologic Oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Smith has practiced in both New York and New Jersey. He is active in teaching and attained the first Center of Excellence in Minimally Invasive Gynecology in New Jersey.
“They [CarePoint] needed someone to develop the program, so they hired me,” Smith said. “I was basically retired.”
But he said he had gathered a lot of information over his years traveling around, and a lot of what he gathered was about the benefits of robotic surgery.
“This is state of the art,” he said.
One benefit is the quick recovery. In the past, someone undergoing a prostate operation might need eight days to recover before going back to work. In some cases, after robotic surgery patients recover in a day.
Smith said he started doing robotic surgery in 2007 after he had heard about the quick recovery from patients he attended.
“I couldn’t believe they had recovered so quickly and with no disability,” he said. “I thought this thing will sell itself in the community.”
“This is a first for Hudson County,” he said, “and it is CarePoint trying to meet the needs of the community.”
He said that the program will reach out into a number of other medical areas such as lung and stomach operations, gall bladder, intestines, prostate and other areas. It will become a big part of the cancer treatment in all three of CarePoint’s hospitals: Christ, Hoboken University Medical Center and Bayonne Medical Center.
He said robotic surgery has resulted in lawsuits elsewhere in the country, but these are avoidable.
“We are devising a new training program in line with residency,” he said.
In order to get accredited as a robotic surgeon, a doctor will have to go through rigorous simulation training.
“There is no pressure to cases; we want to do them just right and provide the best of care,” he said. “There is going to be a learning curve. But we want to avoid all the usual problems and common pitfalls. A person will have to be certified on the simulator before that person goes near a patient.”
The benefits for patients is that they will have well-trained surgeons as well as a quicker recovery, no risk of blood clots, no infections of wound, and no blood loss.
“Robotic surgery is much better than open surgery,” Smith said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.