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Robotic-assisted surgery helping patients get back on their feet
emanuel robots
Marcus Zuniga is back to his routine after a knee replacement surgery that utilized a new robotic technology at Emanuel Medical Center. - photo by Contributed

The next time Marcus Zuniga finds himself out under a hot sun mowing his front yard he can say a thank you to a robot. And Zuniga wouldn’t have it any other way.

Zuniga, a superintendent for a large commercial construction company, is once again able to do his job, enjoy the outdoors, and even mow his lawn because of a robotics-assisted surgery program at Emanuel Medical Center that helped his orthopedic surgeon get him back on his feet again.

In 2006, Zuniga was in a motorcycle crash that left him with a serious leg injury. He lost five inches of bone from his tibia and over the next two years he went under the knife 36 times to repair the damage to his leg and the other injuries he sustained.

The crash and repairs to his tibia threw off the alignment of his leg, leaving Zuniga decidedly bow-legged. That exacerbated the wear and tear on his knee, and by last June he was off work because of the pain. Zuniga needed a knee replacement but wasn’t a good candidate after so many previous surgeries.

“Three doctors told me they wouldn’t do it,” Zuniga said.

Then Zuniga met with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Patrick Guerrero at Active Orthopedic Medical Group in Turlock and the surgeon was able to offer him a ray of hope. Guerrero recognized that Zuniga needed a surgery that would not only replace the knee, but also improve the alignment. The surgeon also knew that a new piece of technology at Emanuel Medical Center would likely get the job done.

We’re lucky to have that kind of technology in Turlock. This is excellent equipment and I’m grateful Emanuel has made it available to the orthopedic community in Turlock. For a town this size, we’re very fortunate to have it.
Dr. Scott Colquhoun

“He needed to achieve good alignment in that knee and had already had 36 surgeries,” Dr. Guerrero said. “We needed to do it once and get it right and be done. Medically, he can’t afford to have any more surgeries.”

Zuniga wasn’t alone in reaping the benefits of the robotic-assisted technology. Alan Marchant, 67, owner of Turlock Scavenger Company, was also struggling with knee pain that was progressively getting worse.

“It had been bothering me for quite a while,” he said. “I’d heard about a new procedure for knee replacement and researched it a little bit.”

Two presentations, one at Emanuel Medical Center and one by orthopedic surgeon Dr. Scott Colquhoun of Yosemite Bone and Joint Inc. at a Rotary club, helped Marchant make up his mind about the surgery.

For Marchant, the operation lasted about an hour-and-a-half, and the damaged parts of his thigh and shin bones were replaced with implants, with a polymer disk between them to replace his worn-out cartilage. The same day of surgery, he was on his way home.

“The robotic-assisted aspect of it is very nice,” Dr. Colquhoun said. “You use it to make a plan based on the patient’s anatomy in real time, make the cuts, and then check the accuracy of the cuts with the robotic hand piece. It’s extremely accurate and a really powerful tool.”

“We’re lucky to have that kind of technology in Turlock,” he said. “This is excellent equipment and I’m grateful Emanuel has made it available to the orthopedic community in Turlock. For a town this size, we’re very fortunate to have it.”

Both Zuniga and Marchant have recovered from their surgeries.

“I walk around the yard at work and don’t have the pain I did before,” Marchant said. “If I had to do it over, I’d do it the exact same way. I tell everybody if they have knee pain they at least have to go talk to Dr. Colquhoun.”

“They told me I’d be off work for six months, and I went back after three,” Zuniga said. “Everybody asked ‘What are you doing here?’ and I’d just tell them ‘I’m done. My knee is fine.’ I’m so happy to be back at work. It’s incredible. I can walk around, do my job, and the pain in my knee is gone. It feels so much better.”

The technology Dr. Guerrero and Dr. Colquhoun used to perform the operations is a robotic-assisted surgical system called NAVIO. It allows surgeons to create a detailed three-dimensional image of the patient’s joint just by touching them with the tip of a probe. After assembling hundreds of data points, the system helps the surgeon visualize the patient’s anatomy, choose the correct size implant, and align it. When the surgeon is happy with the new joint’s strength and flexibility, the system locks in the information and creates a map that helps the surgeon remove the precise amount of bone to position the implant exactly as planned.

“Having NAVIO was extremely helpful in Marcus’s case because the deformity in his leg would have made using external or internal guides difficult and less precise,” Dr. Guerrero explained. “NAVIO provided a good opportunity to get the alignment right.”