New high-tech surgery ends years of suffering for Murrells Inlet man

Published: Sep. 26, 2022 at 9:24 AM EDT
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MURRELLS INLET, S.C. (WMBF) - Joe Hofflinger suffered from hernias for more than 30 years until a surgeon reassured him it could be fixed with the help of a robot.

Hofflinger had feared going under the knife after a surgery in his early 20s left him with weeks of painful recovery and eventually five large abdominal hernias.

However, a general surgeon at Tidelands Health told Hofflinger he could remove the hernias by robotic-assisted surgery.

The new technology allows surgeons to perform more complex surgeries through smaller incisions.

This is a significant difference from Hofflinger’s first surgery which left him with 30 staples running from his chest to his belly button.

Living with five hernias made it dangerous for Hofflinger to lift heavy objects, and he said he felt embarrassed to walk down the beach without covering them up.

After his previous surgery, Hofflinger said he was in intensive care and it took about eight weeks to recover, so he is amazed by how fast it was to recover following robotic-assisted surgery.

“I got off the bed, put my clothes on, and in 15 minutes I was home in my chair. I went about my normal activities after about a week and a half and went back to the doctor after two weeks, and he released me and haven’t seen him since,” said Hofflinger.

Hofflinger said he can now lift heavy objects and freely stroll down the beach without feeling embarrassed.

“There’s a lot of people that didn’t even know. They asked me why I had surgery because they didn’t know I had these hernias. That’s because I always covered it up, and now I can just go down there and walk on the beach and I’m real happy about that,” said Hofflinger.

Hofflinger encourages anyone suffering from hernias to get them fixed because it changed his life.

Now, you may raise an eyebrow after hearing the words “robotic-assisted surgery”, but Mark Witkowski, a general surgeon at Tidelands Health said it’s important for you to know the surgeon is always in control.

“It’s called robotic surgery, but the robot’s not performing it it’s just helping us assist with very defined movements. I think that when people understand there’s a personal element to it constantly there’s never an automated part to it, they’re much more comfortable than a robot doing the surgery,” said Witkowski.

Witkowski said one of the biggest benefits of robotic-assisted surgery is performing operations through small incisions.

Other benefits include a faster recovery time for patients, less scarring, less risk of infection and reduced blood loss.

Witkowski said using the machine is like a 3-D simulator allowing a surgeon to be completely immersed in the area they are working.

However, robotic-assisted surgery is not the better option for everyone, and it depends on a patient’s medical history and how complex the surgery is.

Witkowski said he uses the machine multiple times a day and has performed around 165 robotic-assisted surgeries since the beginning of this year.

Tidelands Health is currently on an upgrade plan, so when the newest robotic equipment becomes available, the hospital will have it.

Tidelands is excited to get another robotic machine in Georgetown either at the end of this year or the beginning of 2023.