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Saint Joseph Health System, Lexington, KY
Saint Joseph Heart Institute Earns National Recognition for Robotic Heart Procedures
Conventional heart surgery involves splitting a patient’s breastbone and spreading the ribs with a retractor. The trauma associated with the procedure results in a long recovery.
Michael Sekela, MD, with Surgical Associates of Lexington, is determined to make life-saving heart operations available to more patients and to do it with less trauma. To accomplish his goal, Sekela and his team partnered with Saint Joseph Hospital in 2009 to offer minimally-invasive heart surgery using the da Vinci® Robotic Surgical System.
Using the da Vinci system, Dr. Sekela can perform heart surgeries using just a few small incisions. “The benefits of the da Vinci are clear,” Sekela said. “There is no open chest, less pain and trauma, a shorter recovery and hospital stay, and a rapid return to normal daily life.”
Sekela is amazed by his patients’ outcomes. “This is a woman who is three weeks out from da Vinci heart surgery,” Sekela said, reaching for his digital camera and pulling up a picture of an 83-year-old woman. “Going into the surgery she couldn’t walk. After surgery and three weeks of rehab, she could walk around her house and ride 19 miles on a stationary bike. That is what da Vinci can do.”
Sekela is the only cardiothoracic surgeon in Kentucky performing robotic valve procedures according to Intuitive Surgical Incorporated, the company that manufactures for the da Vinci platform. “We were named eleventh in the nation in patient volume,” Sekela said.
Sekela is quick to praise his team and Saint Joseph Hospital for his successes with the da Vinci platform. “The successes we have had with the da Vinci are the result of the commitment of everyone in the operating room,” he said.
Sekela also credits the unique model of his practice and his partner Dr. Theodore Wright as reasons for his high patient volume. “In most robotic surgeries, there is a surgeon on the robotic console in the corner of the room and a physician assistant at the patient’s bedside. In our practice, we have Dr. Wright, who is also a surgeon, at the patient’s bedside,” Sekela said.
With this model in place, Sekela and Wright can work quickly and efficiently with minimal communication. In a da Vinci surgery, Sekela operates from a console translating surgical movements to the robotic arms of the da Vinci system, while Wright operates at the patient’s side, using the images on the monitor.
Beyond improving patient outcomes, robotic surgery has enhanced Sekela’s understanding of the heart. The da Vinci system is capable of producing ten times magnification of the heart valve. Although this level of detail can initially confuse surgeons, Sekela has learned to read subtle details in the imaging that can offer clues as to why a heart valve is failing.
To learn more about the advanced da Vinci technology offered at Saint Joseph Hospital, visit
Saint Joseph Health System is a 1,012-bed, eight-facility health care system that spans central and eastern Kentucky. Saint Joseph Health System (serving its communities for more than 130 years) is a member of Catholic Health Initiatives, the nation’s third-largest Catholic health care system.

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