Can you imagine having thoracic surgery and returning to your normal daily activities within a few days?

The Columbia VA Health Care System (HCS) is now making that possible with the Da Vinci XI robotic surgical system. Veterans receive minimally invasive procedures with incredible precision and quicker recoveries.

Dr. Kurt Fichtner, cardiothoracic surgeon at the Columbia VA HCS and retired U.S. Army colonel, is passionate about providing this transformative technology for Veterans.

Life-changing technology in action

“Veterans should feel confident and comfortable that Columbia VA has a state-of-the-art method for performing general and thoracic surgery. Robotic surgery offers incredible benefits for our Veterans. There are less chances of complications, shorter hospital stays and most importantly, equal or better results compared to older surgical methods.”

Using the robotic system, the surgeon makes four small incisions, about the size of a paperclip, where the four robotic arms are inserted. The surgeon operates the robot from an arcade-like control panel to perform the needed surgery. This sharply contrasts with previous methods of invasive procedures, which would require a lengthy hospital admission and a long recovery.

Strong support team leads to success of robotic surgery.

Pictured above, Fichtner performs thoracic surgery from the robotic control panel.

Veterans are seeing for themselves the positive outcomes of robotic surgery. The complications are low and Veterans are often able to return to their regular activities less than a week after surgery.

“Robotic surgery is the only way to go”

Army National Guard Veteran Reginald Thomas had robotic surgery to remove a mass in his chest on a Thursday, was discharged on Friday, and returned to work the following Tuesday.

Veteran Reginald Thomas

“I wanted to mow the yard on Saturday but my wife wouldn’t let me. In the past, my surgery would’ve required having my chest cracked open. Not anymore. This robotic surgery at VA is the only way to go.”

Thomas served from 1988 to 1996, including a combat tour in Operation Desert Storm. He is a quality control director for a construction company.

Army Veteran Wayne Bowers said, “I had thoracic robotic surgery at Columbia VA. When I met with the staff for pre-surgery consultation, I was relieved to learn that my hospital stay would decrease from weeks to 24 hours.

“After the surgery, I returned to my normal activities within two days and did not need to use narcotic pain medication. I would be confident in recommending this type of surgery to anyone who needed it.”

Since the beginning of March 2020, Fichtner and the robotic surgical team have performed more 60 robotic surgeries.

Emphasizing incredible teamwork, Fichtner explained, “It is only with the cohesion of the entire team and support of management that we have had such success with the robotic surgeries. We work really hard to give our Veterans the best quality of care. I want to give my fellow Veterans the care that they deserve.”

Exploring the possibility of other surgeries

Over the next year, the Columbia VA plans to substantially grow the robotic surgical program.

“I am very proud of the significant growth and success of this program,” said David Omura, director and chief executive officer for Columbia VA.

“Our Veterans are having spectacular outcomes with these surgeries. We hope to increase the number of general surgery and thoracic cases but also explore the possibility of adding robotic urogenital and gynecological surgeries.”


Story by Dillon McConnell and story and photos by Marlous Black; both are public affairs specialists at the Columbia VA Health Care System.

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