Fishing for a Fast Recovery

Dell's Da Vinci Patient Story

Research leads retired scientist to St. Mary's da Vinci robot

Watch a video of this heart-warming story.

At 73 years old, Del Hicks considers himself to be medically fortunate. He enjoys an active and healthy lifestyle. He takes his grandchildren to school each morning and always has a fishing trip to look forward to or housework to be done. His whole life had been fast-paced, so why let retirement slow him down?

An aquatic ecologist with a degree in fishery science and an esteemed career with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Del understands data. He knows that when tests show big changes in numbers, warning lights should go off. So in spring 2010, when labwork for his annual physical showed a dramatic jump in prostate specific antigen (PSA), Del knew something was wrong. He made an appointment to see John Blankenship, MD, at Athena Urology Associates.

“I went to Dr. Blankenship for my biopsy and within five minutes in his office I had complete faith in him as my physician,” Del says. “We had an immediate connection.”

The biopsy confirmed what the PSA levels suggested: Del had prostate cancer. Del kicked into scientist mode and began to research his options.

“What little I knew about a traditional prostatectomy was daunting,” he says. “I knew quality of life after surgery was important to me so I needed to understand different routes I could take to decide how to move forward.”

St. Mary’s da Vinci robot

Del soon came across an article on da Vinci prostatectomy, a form of prostate removal in which the surgeon uses ultra-precise controls to guide a robotic assistant. The da Vinci system, he learned, increases the precision of the surgeon’s hands and gives the surgeon highly magnified, 3-D visualization of the surgical site, all through tiny incisions. For most patients, outcomes are equal to or better than older techniques, but with less pain and faster recovery.

“For me, the question of undergoing robotic surgery was a no-brainer,” Del states. “I am impressed by new and innovative things, so I knew this was the way to go.”

Del chose to undergo a da Vinci prostatectomy at St. Mary’s Hospital with Dr. Blankenship as his surgeon. And he had an extra incentive to feel better fast.

A speedy recovery

“I had a fishing trip planned to Penn’s Creek, Pennsylvania, in May with friends I have been fishing with for 30 years,” Del says. “Penn’s Creek is a historical stream for fly fishing. Even if you don’t catch a fish, you still want to go there. I could not imagine missing that trip.”

He went in for surgery the first week in April and after a little more than a day in recovery, Del was discharged with “no more pain than a toothache.” In three short weeks, Del was back to feeling 100 percent. Before he knew it, he was wading into the cold, clear water of Penn’s Creek, doing what he loves to do – fishing.

“After my surgery I got half a dozen calls from friends with prostate complications or cancers,” Del says. “I told each one of them the same thing: I did my research and the decision was simple – da Vinci surgery is the way to go and why do it anywhere else but here in Athens? With the area’s most innovative surgical system right here in my back yard and a surgeon I trusted, I had all the cards in my deck and I played them. This procedure truly saved my life – and saved my quality of life.”

A versatile assistant

In addition to minimally invasive prostate removal, St. Mary’s da Vinci surgical system is being used by qualified local surgeons to perform:

  • A variety of urological and kidney-related procedures
  • Certain gynecological procedures, including hysterectomy
  • Certain thoracic procedures

For complete, up-to-date information about surgeons credentialed to perform surgery using St. Mary’s da Vinci Si surgical robot, click here.