Knee replacement surgery performed with a robot for the first time in Canada

Doctors at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton have performed the first robotic knee replacement surgery in the country.

Doctors at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton first to use new procedure

Dr. Anthony Adili performed the country's first robotic knee replacement on patient Peter Sporta in Hamilton at St. Joseph's Hospital. (St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton)

After years of hobbling in pain, Peter Sporta is walking like a new man — and he has a robot to thank for it.

Doctors at St. Joseph's Hospital in Hamilton performed the first robotic knee replacement surgery in the country in January, with Sporta as the patient.

He says hearing a robot would be involved in his partial knee replacement was a bit of a shock at first, but he quickly warmed up to the idea.

"Of course I was kind of skeptical at first," the Oakville, Ont. man said. "I had never heard of it.

"But I was walking within three days at home … I feel privileged to have had it done." 

Doctors at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton have used a robot to perform a partial knee replacement for the first time in Canada. 0:37

Dr. Anthony Adili is the chief orthopedic surgeon at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton. He says the biggest upside to incorporating a robot in surgeries like this one is it allows doctors to be more precise.

"The big advantage is you're able to pre-plan the patient's surgery on a 3D model in the OR," he said.

With the procedure mapped out on that model, Adili was able to make sure he was only replacing the arthritic parts of Sporta's knee that absolutely had to go, leaving the healthy parts untouched.

Only part of Sporta's knee needed to be replaced. (Peter Sporta)

Though more clinical research is needed to see how the procedure impacts recovery, Adili says the belief is it helps speed healing and future health outcomes.

"We feel because I don't have to do as big an exposure, you're not disrupting as much soft tissue or bone anatomy," he said.

Robotic knee and hip replacement surgery first surfaced in U.S. in the mid-2000s. While very niche at the time, it is slowly becoming more mainstream, with the procedure now happening in parts of Europe, as well.

More than sixty thousand Canadians a year get knee replacement surgery, and Adili says this technology allows doctors to consider more people for partial knee replacement, which is less invasive and generally heals faster.

That's been the case for Sporta so far. The inside of his left knee was arthritic, but the outside was fine. A few weeks removed from the surgery, he says he's feeling great — save for some trouble sleeping at night because of pain.

There's also a strange numbness that comes with a knee replacement. Sporta calls it like "walking around with a potato in your knee."

Surgeons are able to pre-plan a patient's surgery using 3D modelling. (St. Jospeh's Healthcare)

Adili says that's normal, and comes from removing human tissue that provides feedback to the brain, and replacing it with man-made materials.

"It's like a black hole in your brain," he said.

But for Sporta, that numbness is entirely preferable to the years of pain he was enduring. Now, he's eyeing a return to the types of physical activity he loves, from tennis to swimming.

"I can't believe I'm walking around normally again," he said.

"You take it for granted."

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Hamilton home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

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