World-first surgery gives patient new voice

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Surgeons at St Andrew’s Toowoomba Hospital have successfully undertaken a world-first procedure to give a local cancer patient the gift of a new voice.

Trevor Bennett never imagined a persistent change in his voice would lead him to become the subject of the world-first procedure.

The Toowoomba local was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx earlier this year. Mr Bennett underwent radiotherapy treatment, but the cancer returned three months later.

That’s when things transpired.

“I had radium treatment, but it didn’t do anything,” he said.

“That’s when they said they were going to try the new robotic surgery.”

Toowoomba surgeons Dr Suresh Mahendran and Dr Roger Grigg performed the operation with a da Vinci robotic system, with assistance from Professor Suren Krishnan from the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

The procedure involved removing Mr Bennett’s voice box and inserting a new speaking valve into his throat.

The robotic assisted surgical removal of a patient’s voice box has been done around 100 times worldwide, but Mr Bennett is the first patient to receive a new speaking valve at the same time.

“We were very thankful we picked up the cancer early enough that it was held within the voice box structure itself, so Mr Bennett became the perfect candidate for this type of surgery,” Dr Mahendran said.

The robotic system has six arms with instruments at the end of each of them. Surgeons use two hand controllers and six foot pedals to operate while looking through a special viewfinder.

The system mimics a surgeon’s hand movements while allowing for a greater range of movement.

Dr Mahendran said the robot offers significant benefits.

“If it was a straightforward conventional laryngectomy there would have been a cut from the jaw on one side to the other side, coming down to the lower neck,” he said.

“Using the robot means you’re not cutting through nerves in the skin. And there’s no compromising major blood vessels and nerves that could potentially be harmed through open surgery.

“In this surgery there’s no external scar. It saved a second operation and gets the patient vocalising as soon as the wound is healed.”

The procedure has enabled Mr Bennett to talk, albeit his voice is much more gravelly than it used to be.

“My sister says I sound like [Federal member for Groom] Ian Macfarlane,” he laughed.

St Andrew’s Toowoomba Hospital chief executive Ray Fairweather hailed the surgery as an “exciting move forward for medical treatment in regional Australia”.

“Medical care is going from strength to strength in Toowoomba, with exceptional facilities available on our doorstep,” Mr Fairweather said.

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