The art of surgery

Dr. Stephen Pautler sitting in the operation room

Donors funded St. Joseph’s first da Vinci robot in 2005. Nearly 20 years later, they’re doing it again.

In 2008, St. Joseph’s urologist Dr. Stephen Pautler was invited to mentor a Toronto surgeon completing his first robotic surgery. During the media scrum that followed, a reporter asked Dr. Pautler about his role in the groundbreaking procedure.

“He was surprised to hear that a London, Ontario hospital had been using the da Vinci robot for four years,” Dr. Pautler laughs.

Thanks entirely to donor generosity, St. Joseph’s Health Care London purchased its first da Vinci surgical system in 2005. The technology vaulted Dr. Pautler onto the national stage as one of the pioneers of robotic-assisted surgery in Canada with multiple national and world firsts, including a robot-assisted partial cystectomy (partial bladder removal) and a paediatric robotic kidney reconstruction, among others.

Dr. Pautler was also among the country’s first specially-trained urologists to perform radical prostatectomies for men with prostate cancer using the da Vinci robot.

Approximately 100 urology patients a year now benefit from St. Joseph’s high-tech expertise. The robot is devoted almost exclusively to surgeries involving the prostate, kidney and bladder.

Dr. Pautler completing a surgery
Thanks to donor support, St. Joseph’s is able to raise the bar with robotic surgery - offering even more benefits to patients.

“Robotic surgery is a game changer for surgeons and patients alike,” says Dr. Pautler.

He describes the da Vinci system as akin to a modern-day video game with the surgeon operating the controller that moves the robot’s four arms in real time through tiny incisions in the patient’s abdomen.

From his seat within the da Vinci’s console in the operating room, Dr. Pautler has a 3D view of the patient’s anatomy and precise control of the robot’s tiny, “wristed” instruments that bend like a human hand, but with far greater dexterity.

The result is surgery with smaller incisions, less pain, faster recovery, shorter hospital stays and fewer complications than traditional open procedures.

Under Dr. Pautler’s guidance, in fact, blood transfusion rates have plummeted to less than one per cent and men undergoing prostatectomies are routinely discharged the next day, half the time of open surgery patients.

St. Joseph’s is now preparing to raise the bar even further with the newest da Vinci system funded once again with donations to the Spirit of St. Joseph’s Fund. Expected to arrive on site by year end, the upgraded system will feature enhanced visualization—Dr. Pautler and his team will be able to visualize more areas in the abdomen without repositioning the robot or the patient—and advanced instrumentation, including a surgical stapler for internal sutures.

“This is a real opportunity for St. Joseph’s to expand the robotic surgery footprint with even more surgeons and subspecialties,” Dr. Pautler explains.

“I’m so grateful to our donors for making this happen. Because of them, even more Canadians will have access to state-of-the-art care.”

– Dr. Stephen Pautler

Read more from the 2023-24 Community Impact Report

Back to all Stories