A SURGICAL team from the North-East has claimed a UK first after using a robot to successfully operate on a patient with a paralysed diaphragm.

Cardiothoracic surgeon Joel Dunning performed the procedure at the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough using their recently acquired da Vinci robot.

Helped by the world’s first robotic thoracic surgeon Franca Melfi - who travelled from Italy – the Middlesbrough team performed the procedure on Monday, April 13.

James Cook is only the second hospital in the country to offer robotic thoracic surgery and is now the first to use it to carry out what is known as a diaphragm placation.

“A paralysed diaphragm can leave you feeling very out of breath,” said Mr Dunning.

“Normally you would have to have a big thoracotomy which is very painful and you can be out of action for up to six weeks, but with this endoscopic technique patients can be back home within two to four days.

“It’s technically very difficult to do because it requires a lot of stitching but that’s what the robot is so good at doing.”

“We are very pleased to say it went perfectly and the patient was up that very evening saying his breathing felt better already,” said Mr Dunning.

The robot arms control long instruments that go into the chest through three to four small holes of about 8mm.

The surgeon sits at the console and has full control of the robot and excellent vision via a 3D camera.

Mr Dunning added: “The real advantage of the robot is that the instruments are so controllable inside the chest and can move in every direction – plus the robot has three arms compared to my two!

“Patients benefit from the robot’s brilliant accuracy and vision and we hope this new technique will also significantly speed up their recovery.”

Granddad Michael Jackson, 68, from Whitley Bay, North Tyneside,had been suffering from problems with his breathing following a car crash in 2008. After months of tests the retired sales manager was told that the stabbing pain in the chest was being caused by damage to his phrenic nerve and the only way to repair it would be major surgery.

When his wife, Teresa, searched the internet and discovered that the surgery could be done using keyhole procedures at James Cook, he jumped at the chance.

“When I went to see Mr Dunning he offered me the robotic surgery and I was not bothered about being the first to try it.

“When I woke up I could breathe better straight away. In fact I have not felt this well for at least five years!”