The Cutting Edge

Dr. Haq Brings Expertise in Robotic Cardiothoracic Surgery to Bostick Heart Center

by TERESA SCHIFFER

The future is now! At least, it seems that way when we consider the incredible advances made in cardiothoracic surgery since Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performed the first successful open heart surgery on a stabbing victim in 1893. Keep in mind that the use of modern anesthesia and antiseptics were still in their early stages at that point in time, making Dr. Williams’ extraordinary surgical achievement all the more noteworthy. The patient not only survived the operation but went on to live for more than 20 years afterward.

By the 20th century, surgeons may have had access to anesthesia and antiseptics, but they were still a long way from where they are now. Medical technology continued to advance, though. X-rays were introduced as valuable diagnostic tools, the discovery of blood types made transfusions safer, and the development of antibiotics radically improved patient outcomes as infections could be controlled and treated much more easily. 

Modern surgery is now monitored and facilitated by many different types of machines and equipment, which now includes cutting-edge robotic devices. In 1985, the first active robotic device was used in a live surgical procedure when an industrial robotic arm was modified in order to conduct a stereotactic brain biopsy on a patient. What was once only imagined in science fiction stories had become a mainstream reality.

Nowadays, we have many surgeons utilizing robotic devices to perform delicate procedures. Locally, Dr. Safi Haq of BayCare’s Bostick Heart Center in Winter Haven uses minimally invasive robotic approaches in cardiac and thoracic operations. The use of these incredible, innovative machines can help improve not just the efficiency and safety of the surgical procedures themselves, but also contribute to improved outcomes as patient recovery is enhanced by decreasing their pain and need for opioid usage. 

Ever since he was a child, Haq knew he wanted to be a surgeon, even though there were no other medical professionals in his immediate family. He was the type of child who enjoyed taking things apart, putting them back together, and working with his hands. During his medical education, he did a rotation with a cardiac surgery team and was greatly impressed by the smoothly functioning teamwork and routine of the department. Fascinated as he was by the heart and pulmonary system, it was only natural for Haq to ultimately gravitate toward cardiothoracic surgery.

As for Haq’s initiation into the world of medical robotics, he tells us, “I was very fortunate to be in a general surgery training program [at Northeast Ohio Medical University/Western Reserve Health Education in Youngstown, Ohio] that had a strong robotics education component.” He began working with the da Vinci Xi as soon as it came out. During his fellowship at the University of Miami/Jackson Health System, he worked closely with thoracic surgeons who used robotics often in their practice. 

During his cardiothoracic fellowship, Dr. Haq was one of 25 awardees of the American Association of Thoracic Surgery’s Surgical Robotics Fellowship. 

“I think robotics has a special place in thoracic surgery,” says Haq. 

The use of robots allows a surgeon closer visualization of the surgical procedure than is possible with the naked eye, while the robotic instruments are able to deftly simulate the movement of the surgeon’s own hands. 

Robotic surgery improves patient outcomes by minimizing their pain and shortening the duration of their hospital stays. 

“Open, thoracic surgery can be one of the most painful operations a patient has to endure,” Haq explains. By using robotic devices, surgeons are able to make a smaller incision in the patient’s chest and avoid spreading the ribs. Plus they are able to do intercostal nerve blocking or use the robot to inject other medications to lessen postsurgical pain.

Generally, once patients are educated on how the robot affects them through its positive impact on the surgical procedure, they tend to be receptive to the idea of robotic surgery. Even though the use of robotic devices in surgery is still a relatively new development, patients are comforted by the fact that physicians such as Haq are now being trained in the use of this state-of-the-art equipment. 

During a discussion on a recent afternoon, Haq explained what he thinks the future holds for surgical robotics. 

“I think, personally, the next major shift in surgical robotics would be providing the surgeon with haptic feedback. At present, the surgeon can’t feel what the robot is feeling, so I think the next step would be to give the surgeon the feeling of the tissues they’re touching through the robot.”

Haq says he is excited to be a part of the team at Bostick Heart Center. 

“My goals are to continue to carry forward their tradition of excellent outcomes and patient-centered care, and also to bring in more minimally invasive thoracic and cardiac surgery techniques.”