More than one million hernia repairs are performed annually in the United States and of the 20 million people who have gallstones, approximately 300,000 undergo a laparoscopic cholecystectomy to have their gallbladder removed. A surgeon with South Texas Health System Clinics can now say she has contributed to the successful performance of more than 1,000 of those procedures and others like them after recently reaching this remarkable milestone.
As part of South Texas Health System’s effort to improve the patient experience and recovery times for its patients, Sandra Esquivel, MD, performed her 1,000th minimally invasive robotic surgery using the state-of-the-art da Vinci® Xi™ Surgical System at STHS Edinburg, despite the pause and limit on elective surgeries during the two-year COVID-19 pandemic period.
Since 2017, Esquivel has performed hernia repairs, laparoscopic cholecystectomies and colon surgeries — among several other procedures — with the da Vinci® Xi™ system at STHS Edinburg. Through these minimally invasive procedures, more than a thousand patients have been able to experience a less postoperative pain, a shorter hospital stay after surgery and a shorter recovery time, which allows for a faster return to their day-to-day life.
"Congratulations to Dr. Esquivel on achieving this surgery milestone," said Lance Ames, CEO, South Texas Health System Edinburg. "Through her expertise, acumen for embracing leading-edge technology and dedication, she is positively impacting the lives of her patients. We are pleased that she officially joined STHS Clinics in November 2022, where she will continue to use the da Vinci® Xi™ surgical system, improving the patient experience and driving positive outcomes through minimally invasive procedures."
Compared to traditional open surgery, which can require large incisions, robotic surgery with the da Vinci® Xi™ Surgical System allows surgeons to operate on a patient through one or more small incisions, which are typically less than or equal to one centimeter long. Using four thin robotic arms, which have a wider range of motion than the human hand, the system offers a magnified, 3D view of the surgical site and helps surgeons operate with precision, flexibility and control.
This minimally invasive method has been a game-changer for patients, improving their overall hospital experience by reducing the amount of recovery time and reducing pain. The less invasive procedures have also helped decrease the risk of infection because of the smaller incisions.
"There's less damage to the body than with open surgery. I’ve seen my patients experience much less pain than those who had traditional surgery, and their recovery time has been that much quicker. Many of these minimally invasive procedures require a shorter hospital stay or are done as outpatient procedures, which allows our patients to get back to their daily lives," Esquivel said. "I first started doing them on some of my older patients and I was so impressed by how little pain they reported experiencing and how quickly they were able to go back to doing their regular activities."
A surgeon for 25 years, Esquivel received her bachelor's degree from the University of Texas at Austin, then earned her medical degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. She then completed her general surgeon residency at Dallas’ Parkland Memorial Hospital, which is UT Southwestern Medical Center’s primary teaching facility.
In 2021, Esquivel, along with STHS Clinics physician Bob H. Saggi, MD, was awarded the Surgeon of Excellence designation by the Surgical Review Corporation (SRC), a non-profit patient safety organization.
Their recognition came as South Texas Health System Edinburg, which had already been nationally recognized for its robotic and minimally invasive surgery programs, received its accreditation as a Center for Excellence in Hernia Surgery by the Surgical Review Corporation.
As part of the hospital’s robotic surgery program, STHS Edinburg became the first medical facility south of San Antonio to use the da Vinci® Xi™ system in 2015. The hospital received its second da Vinci® Xi™ in February 2021. The system provides surgeons with enhanced vision, greater access to their patients’ internal organs and higher precision than with previous systems.
"Laparoscopic surgery was a stepping-stone to get to this point, but surgeons are still somewhat limited as far as some of the things we can do with laparoscopic surgery,” Esquivel said. "From a medical standpoint, we always want to improve things. To me, this is a natural progression towards making things better for the patient."