Although lawsuits and scientific research have uncovered a number of potential hazards linked to the da Vinci surgical robot, hospitals continue to advertise robotic surgery strongly. Critics charge that, by failing to mention the risks of complications from robotic surgery, hospital advertising is “misleading to outright dishonest.”
Because hospitals and the medical equipment industry are unwilling to discuss openly the risks from robotic surgery, it takes careful attention to reports in medical journals and newspapers—and lawsuit filings—to compile a list of the most common injuries. As your would expect, most of the surgical complications follow hysterectomy and prostate surgery procedures, the commonest da Vinci robot operations.
Because the da Vinci robot uses a monopolar cauterization process, whenever electrical current flows it passes through the body of the patient. A mistaken motion of the cautery probe can lead to burns of the intestine or other internal organs. A sudden electrical arc can scorch the flesh anywhere on the body, and skin burns can result from worn or frayed electrical conduits outside the surgical area. Note that in all these cases, the injury may not be noticed while the operation is ongoing, because the surgeon’s field of vision is limited to the view from the console.
Da Vinci robot surgical complications can occur because the surgeon is given no tactile feedback to gauge the grip of the robot probes. As a result, the manipulation arms can accidentally tear through body tissues, sever small blood vessels, or puncture organs. In some cases, these errors will not be discovered for hours or days after the operation has been completed, when the patient begins exhibiting symptoms that something has gone horribly wrong.
Reproductive System Damage
Some men experience impotence following robotic prostate surgery. Additionally, there have been multiple reports of robotic surgery hysterectomy injuries. An especially serious result is vaginal cuff dehiscence, in which the surgical incision essentially “unzips” from one end to the other, allowing abdominal organs such as the intestine to be expelled through the slit. Such an incident requires emergency surgery to repair the wound and clean the abdominal cavity to ward off infection.
Blood Vessel Injuries
The use of the da Vinci robot has been implicated in a wide range of vascular injuries during surgery. The medical literature reports that there have been incidents of
- Blood vessel burns
- Hematomas, or pooling blood in an internal cavity due to internal bleeding
- Fistulas, or abnormal connections between different blood vessels (for instance, connecting an artery to a vein)
Blood vessel injuries have been blamed on burns and torn body tissues caused by the da Vinci robotic probes. Vascular tears can require blood transfusions and force the surgeon to convert the procedure to an open-body operation. Serious rips in blood vessels can be life-threatening, especially if they are not discovered before the incision is closed.
Bowel and Intestinal Injuries
Surgical robots have been blamed for punctured bowels and evisceration—the spilling of the intestines through a hole into the abdominal cavity or even outside the body. A burn from the monopolar current used by the da Vinci robot or an organ tear caused by the robot’s manipulating arm can puncture intestinal walls and allow the contents to leak. Infection follows in a matter of days, and if this is not swiftly treated the patient will die from sepsis. Patients who survive may require a colostomy for the rest of their lives.
Urinary Tract Damage
Burns and tears to the bladder, cut ureters, and severed urethras are robotic surgery complications reported in lawsuits or medical publications. If these injuries are not noticed during the operation, there is a substantial chance that urine will flow into body cavities or the urinary tract and abdomen will develop infections. The patient may have a lasting problem with incontinence or pain. Incontinence is also a common complaint for men following robot-assisted prostate surgery.
Nerve and Muscle Damage
Because using the da Vinci robot tends to increase the length of surgery, a patient will remain immobile under anesthesia for a longer period compared to standard laparoscopic surgery. This period of immobility will be further extended if an unexpected development requires converting the surgery to an open-body operation. One of the major risks from this period of immobility is compartment syndrome, a special form of inflammation that can lead to permanent nerve and muscle damage or even—in extreme cases—require amputation. Some experts have also linked robotic surgery with an increased risk of rhabdomyolysis, a swift breakdown of skeletal muscle that can cause kidney damage.
It’s not always easy to tell at the time when robotic surgery goes wrong. The surgeon operating a da Vinci device is limited to a highly magnified image of the incision area, and she may overlook accidental injuries when they occur outside the range of the camera. The presence of the robot itself can block the views of other observers. The medical literature reports many instances where injuries caused during the surgery were not noticed during the operation, but only came to light much later when infection ravaged the patient. Sepsis, or systemic inflammatory response syndrome, can throw the body into shock when a bacterial infection overwhelms the body’s defenses. Repairing damage from robotic surgery can require multiple revision surgeries, each of which imposes greater stress on the patient.
Some people have filed wrongful death lawsuits after robotic surgery operations led to fatal complications for a family member. Accidental injuries from the surgical robot, infections, or the trauma of repeated reparative surgery can all lead to a fatal outcome for a patient who entered the hospital for laparascopic surgery.
Getting a fair recovery for da Vinci surgical complications
The injuries that can follow from a malfunctioning da Vinci surgical robot can be extreme and life-threatening. If a defective surgical device has harmed you or your loved one, it is important to contact an experienced medical mass tort attorney immediately to protect your legal rights.
The Pennsylvania law firm of Sacks, Weston & Petrelli stands ready to help you get the maximum compensation for your injury or loss. Contact us today (215) 925-8200 or toll-free at (800) 578-5300 for a free and confidential no-obligation consultation.