PARKER, Colo. (KDVR) — Surgeons at the UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital have made a medical breakthrough, successfully completing a robotic living donor liver transplant for the first time in state history, according to UCHealth. 

The surgery uses an advanced robot under human control to perform the surgery, resulting in a more detailed surgery and a quicker recovery time for the patient.

Danel Kuhlmann said she was originally anxious about the idea but quickly got on board.

“They asked if I was willing to do that, and I said absolutely, and then I kind of backed up a little bit thinking, ‘Wait, what did I just agree to?'” Kuhlmann said. “But even the morning of surgery, driving to the hospital, there was a level of excitement like, OK, let’s do this. I felt like a medical pioneer.”

Two months post-surgery, Kuhlmann said she’s feeling great and walking long distances every day.

Robotic transplant surgery has quicker recovery time

According to UCHealth, patients can return to work just three weeks after surgery, compared to the recovery time of six to eight weeks with traditional open surgery.

The robot also allows them a new level of precision, providing surgeons with up to 10 times the magnification of the human eye.

“The four robotic arms are all controlled by the surgeon, but in the manner that they’re tiny little hands, and they’re even more accurate than the human hand,” said Dr. Thomas Pshak, who helped perform Kuhlmann’s surgery. “I can make the robot do things with stitches that I can’t do with my hands.”

A surgeon at UCHealth practices controlling a robot
A surgeon at UCHealth practices controlling a robot now being used to perform surgery. (Credit: UCHealth)

Pshak said the hospital is using similar robot assists for kidney transplants.

UCHealth said it’s seen a significant increase in alcohol-associated liver disease following the pandemic, resulting in more patients who need surgery.

Kuhlmann, who also donated a kidney to her mother, is hoping the easier recovery convinces others to sign up to donate organs. 

“I will say it’s the most rewarding and gratifying thing I’ve done in my life,” she said. “It’s just a less intense procedure, so hopefully it gets more people to sign up to be a donor.”