• Australian first puts farmer back on her feet

    Farming is Shauna Miller’s life – but crippling back problems were forcing her to consider leaving the Goulburn Valley land that has been in her husband’s family since 1890.

    “The pain was unbearable at times,” she said. “I couldn’t function physically, mentally – I couldn’t work on the farm.”

    Mrs Miller tried multiple options with no success – cortisone, a nerve block, platelet-rich plasma injections. Pain killers killed the pain, but left her unable to function.

    “They would end up knocking you out and you’d go back to bed until you woke up again,” she said.

    However, just when she thought she had tried everything, she was referred to spinal surgeon Professor Greg Malham at Melbourne’s Epworth Richmond hospital, who suggested a landmark procedure using robotic technology.

    “I was very reluctant to have surgery, so it was a huge step for me and I was absolutely petrified,” Mrs Miller said.

    Prof Malham was able to allay her fears by describing the minimally-invasive nature of the planned surgery, which would be the first time the CIRQ robot was used in conjunction with BrainLab surgical navigation in Australia.

    “The CIRQ robot is a new innovation to help patients,” he said.

    “We can do keyhole surgeries safer, faster and more accurately. It certainly reduces stress for the surgeon – you can see the nerves you need to decompress. The smaller incision helps patients with less pain and a quicker return to their normal life.”

    Surgeons can perform procedures with pinpoint accuracy thanks to the computer-guided navigation system.

    Prof Malham said the robot was a guidance arm for the surgeon, assisted by computerised navigation.

    “It guides the surgeon to the right spot with millimetre-accuracy and locks the robot arm in place. The robot is then used as a guide to make the correct incision and decompress the nerve safely,” he said.

    Victoria-based Epworth HealthCare has pioneered the use of robotic surgery for almost two decades.

    “Epworth was the first hospital group in Australia to use a robot in prostate surgery,” said Allison Evans, Executive General Manager of its flagship Richmond hospital.

    “Robots are now commonly used in prostate and orthopaedic surgery, and the introduction of the first CIRQ spinal robot in Australia will help even more patients,” she added.

    Mrs Miller is now recovering well from her surgery and hopes to return to full duties on the farm in north-east Victoria.

    “If I couldn’t get back to being on the farm I wouldn’t want to be here, I think, because the land is pretty much our life,” she said.

    “I’m pretty confident I’ll get back to doing everything I was before.”

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