Indian American helps perform state’s first robotic sleep surgery

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Dr. Steven Coutras and Dr. Rusha Patel (Courtesy: WVU Medicine)

Dr. Rusha Patel, a WVU Medicine otolaryngologist, along with Dr. Steven Coutras, performed West Virginia’s first robotic tongue base volume reduction procedure to treat a patient with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

According to a WVU Medicine press release, the procedure is only available to patients who have not had success with other sleep apnea interventions because the nocturnal airway collapse in OSA often involves obstruction at the tongue base therefore, transoral robotic surgery (TORS) can be used to treat moderate to severe OSA.

“OSA has a significant impact on the lives of our patients, and this treatment can lead to improvements in their ability to breathe, swallow, eat, and sleep,” Coutras is quoted saying in a press release.

Also, candidates for this procedure must have significant obstruction at the tongue base as determined by awake endoscopic exam or by drug-induced sleep endoscopy and do not have retrusive jaw, which is the inability to extend the neck or the limited ability to open the mouth.

Robotic surgery provides the surgeons with a better view of the tongue base, which allows for increased precision and better access, making sleep apnea surgery available to patients who may not be candidates for the traditional approach, according to the press release.

However, robotic surgery cannot be offered to patients with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy.

“There are many reasons why CPAP therapy would not be successful for patients. For select patients, removing bulk from the base of the tongue can address the anatomical cause of the problem,” Patel is quoted saying in a press release.

Patients who receive surgery to reduce the tongue base may temporarily experience numbness or difficulty swallowing, but these symptoms typically resolve with time.

The first patient underwent the surgery in August and reports a significant improvement in well-being, including better sleep, improved ability to breathe and a better ability to talk and sing.

She is scheduled for a post-operative sleep study.

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