A surgical team at West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park show the hospital's new da Vinci XI surgical robot. | Provided

Robert Bonner, 42, of Austin, was the first patient at West Suburban Medical Center, 3 Erie St. in Oak Park, to benefit from the new da Vinci XI surgical robot when he got gall bladder surgery on Nov. 16.

Robert Bonner

Although the hospital has been using surgical robots since September 2012, the new robot is more precise and includes more surgical tools. Bonner said that he was impressed with the technology and the care he got at the hospital, adding that he recovered quickly and the surgery didn’t leave any “hideous” scars.

Photos of the robot from Intuitive, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based surgical robot manufacturer that makes the surgical device, show a towering structure with four tentacle-like appendages coming down from the top. Each appendage ends with a thin, flexible arms that can go into the body without requiring large openings.

Dr. Frederick Tiesenga, the chair of West Suburban’s surgery department, said that the advantage of the surgical robots is that they allow for more precise, less invasive surgical techniques. This means patients spend less time recovering, so they can leave the hospital sooner than they would after more traditional surgeries.

The da Vinci XI robots, Tiesenga said, “take robotic surgery to the next level.” They are even more precise than the older robots and have better surgical instruments.

Bonner said that he had been feeling stomach pains “for probably six to seven months.” At first, he thought the pain was indigestion, which he treated by drinking ginger ale, but that treatment didn’t work.

“Before I got the surgery, I was in a lot of pain,” he said. “Everything just wasn’t feeling right.”

On Nov. 15, Bonner was at his father’s house when the pain got so bad that he realized he had to get help quickly.

“The pain was just starting to get worse and worse,” he recalled. “And I was at my daddy’s house and I said, ‘Pops, I gotta go, I can’t take the pain no longer.’”

Bonner’s father called the ambulance, and he was quickly taken to West Suburban. The doctors found that Bonner’s gallbladder was causing the stomach pains and related high blood pressure.

“They were kind of shocked that I was moving around and I was living [with such a high blood pressure],” Bonner said.

From there, things moved quickly. The surgery was scheduled for the following day. When asked whether he was okay with being the first person they used the da Vinci XI on, Bonner didn’t hesitate.

“I was like, ‘Sure,’” he said. “If it’s anything that can take care of that pain, it’s good with me.”

Tiesenga said that Bonner was chosen because he was “the first patient who was an appropriate candidate for using the da Vinci XI.” The doctor said that the surgeons were “very excited to do this.”

Since then, West Suburban surgeons have been using the robot on a regular basis.

“I am a general surgeon and I use it for all different kinds of operations, multiple times every week,” Tiesenga said.

Bonner said he was impressed with how quickly he recovered. His father, who had the same surgery, had to stay in the hospital for “at least a week” afterwards, while his recovery took less than two days.

“By Thursday [Nov. 18], man, I was moving around, walking up and down the stairs, doing everything, and they sent me home,” he said. “By Thursday afternoon, I was back at the house.”

Since then, Bonner said he hasn’t had any issues.

“The scars weren’t really hideous, like I’ve seen with other people,” he said. “I am looking at the scars and I can hardly see them.”

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...