Karen Amacher was nervous about her operation for donating a kidney to her daughter, but an unusual medical procedure expected to become more common made the surgery a lot easier on the Collins mother.
Instead of painful, extensive cuts through muscle and nerve tissue, doctors made four small holes in Amacher's abdomen. They inserted surgical instruments and a thin fibre-optic video camera, then performed the entire operation while watching a television screen. The kidney was removed through a 3-inch incision.
The technique -- called laparoscopic kidney removal -- shortened Amacher's recuperation time, avoided an 8- to 12-inch scar and got her out of the hospital in just two days.
"I feel really good," Amacher, 48, said Friday. "If I would have had the traditional method of surgery, I would have been in the hospital six to seven days. I would have been in a lot more pain and had a huge scar."
The procedure is common for several types of surgeries these days, including removing gall bladders, spleens and diseased kidneys. But Amacher's Feb. 12 operation is the first time doctors in Western New York used the technology to remove a healthy donor kidney, Erie County Medical Center officials said.
Done in only about 25 percent of the nation's hospitals that perform kidney transplants, the procedure is expected to become more common in the years ahead, said Dr. Kennon Miller, one of the ECMC doctors who performed the surgery on Amacher.
"Not everybody would be a candidate for this now," Miller said. "But as our experience increases, we will be able to offer this to just about anybody that's a candidate for donating a kidney."
The procedure is expected to increase the number of kidney donors, he said.
"Removing the kidney laparoscopically lessens the discomfort to the patient because it is much less invasive," said Dr. Alan Posner, the other ECMC doctor who performed the surgery. "The procedure results in a markedly decreased hospital stay and significantly faster recovery."
Amacher's daughter, Carissa Menard, 28, of Sanborn, has struggled with diabetes since she was 10. Last July, doctors told her she would have to go through kidney dialysis or need a kidney transplant. Amacher was a match for a kidney donor.
"I think it's fantastic that she did this for me," said Menard, who is at home recovering.
"It had to be done," Amacher countered. "This is my daughter, and she needs a life."
Surgically removing a kidney usually means making an 8- to 12-inch incision beneath the ribs. But Posner and Miller avoided that by making four small holes, or ports, in Amacher's abdomen and inserting narrow tubes.
A laparoscope -- a long, slender optical instrument that works something like a periscope -- and surgical instruments are inserted through the tubes. The surgeons cut away the kidney from surrounding tissue, then staple shut and sever the blood vessels.
A retractable, synthetic sack is inserted through one of the holes to capture the kidney. The kidney, compressed, but fully intact, is removed through one of the holes, which is enlarged to about 3 inches. The kidney was then rushed to Joseph Gerbasi, George Blessios and Daniel Leary, the doctors who performed Menard's transplant surgery.
"There's no room for error. The kidney you're removing has to be in perfect condition," Miller said. "But the surgery went flawlessly. We're very pleased how everything fell into place."
If more people knew about this procedure, Amacher said, they wouldn't be scared to donate a kidney to a loved one.
"A lot of people are afraid, but if they knew they could do it this way, it's not really that bad," Amacher said. "I'm not saying its not painful, but it's not that bad."