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Arvada woman says UCHealth's new robotic transplant procedure saved her life

Posted at 9:40 PM, Sep 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-08 18:18:41-04

AURORA, Colo. — After more than three years of intensive research and planning, UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital is giving patients another option when it comes to getting a kidney transplant.

It’s called a robotic kidney transplant. UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital is the first hospital west of the Mississippi and the only hospital in the Rocky Mountain region to do this procedure.

“Life as you know it won’t ever be the same with this diagnosis,” said Melanie Terrell.

That was Terrell’s thought process when she first found out she needed a kidney transplant. The 37-year-old says about 15 years ago, she was diagnosed with a disease that attacks the kidneys and scars them. Her kidneys were functioning at about five percent, and she didn’t want to go the dialysis route, so she knew a transplant was inevitable.

“I’m only 37, right? I don’t want to be tied to a machine every night or three days a week. I want to live my life,” said Terrell.

Her older sister, Tracy, agreed to be her donor, and that’s when the journey began. Terrell's doctor recommended she undergo what’s called a robotic kidney transplant instead of the traditional route.

Arvada woman says UCHealth's new robotic transplant procedure saved her life

“We take an incision that’s about eight to 10 inches and make that two inches and put that right around the belly button, and that’s where the kidney goes in. And the robotic arms are about the size of a pencil,” said UCHealth transplant surgeon, Dr. Thomas Pshak.

Pshak has performed five robotic kidney transplants at UCHealth’s University of Colorado Hospital since last November. Melanie’s was conducted on March 1.

The transplant surgeon says patients with a high body mass index (BMI) are not typically eligible for a kidney transplant because they’re at higher risk for experiencing complications, and a lot of body fat makes visibility tough.

“The farther a person’s skin is from a person’s blood vessels, where we need to sew the transplant in, [it] becomes more difficult,” Pshak said.

Terrell said her surgery was a success and the recovery was smoother than she thought.

“It took me probably two weeks and I was back out walking my dog, doing everything I wanted to do," she said. "Life looks a lot brighter. You don’t have this kind of ominous thing hanging over you, right? Like future kidney dialysis. It’s not on the table anymore.”

Terrell said she is looking forward to traveling more with her boyfriend and is thinking about having kids in the near future. She said her sister has also made a full recovery.