Medical robot performs almost a dozen head, neck surgeries in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — For several months, surgeons at Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City have been performing head and neck surgeries on cancer patients using a new robot.

They became first in the Mountain West to get the Da Vinci SP Robotic Surgical System. “SP” stands for single port, which is the factor that differentiates the device from older Da Vinci models that the hospital uses.

In late January, FOX 13 News was invited by the hospital to watch doctors get trained on the technology before it was used on patients.

“It’s just one port where all of the instruments come through that one, single arm,” explained Dr. Hilary McCrary, a head and neck surgeon at Huntsman Cancer Institute. “It allows us to get into some pretty small and tricky areas that are normally very difficult to expose and operate on.”

McCrary became the first surgeon to use the technology on patients and have used the single port robot on ten patients since it was implemented in late January.

Surgeons like her control how the device moves using a console that has hand and foot pedals. Its cameras capture images inside the human body in high-definition 3D.

“We’re allowing patients a surgical option that could potentially reduce the amount of radiation that they need,” McCrary explained.

Reyes Salazar, 34, of Salt Lake City, was the first person she treated in Utah. Salazar had a non-cancerous, recurring cyst at the base of his tongue that prevented him from eating certain foods because he had difficulties swallowing. McCrary said the cyst removal procedure would’ve been more challenging without the single port device and is pleased with how the surgery went from start to finish.

About 90 days post-operation, FOX 13 News talked with Salazar about how the surgery went. While he says it took him longer to recover from the surgery than expected, which was discouraging at times, ultimately, it was a great overall experience for him.

Salazar says he can now enjoy the foods he loves without discomfort or worrying about whether he will be able to swallow them.

“It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to use this new technology,” he explains. “I’m happy that I went through with it, and I’m not second guessing my decision.”

Salazar already had two follow-up appointments since his procedure and has one more scheduled for this September to make sure everything is clear.

In the meantime, he plans to continue attending college for nutrition and expects that he will be ready to graduate in spring of 2026.


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