Robotic surgery now common at West Virginia hospital

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — There’s no substitute for a pair of steady hands honed with tens of thousands of hours in the operating room.
But since the da Vinci surgical system was approved for use in 2000, hospitals around the world have found the skilled hands of their surgeons can now perform with more tactful grace when they’re operating the even steadier hands of a robot.
No hospital in West Virginia has explored the potential of robotic surgery more than Cabell Huntington Hospital, which has performed the highest number of robot surgeries in the state and been accredited as a Center of Excellence in Robotic Surgery – meaning its staff is also teaching other facilities to start and manage their own robotics systems.
Cabell Huntington has three da Vinci Xi machines operated by more than 20 specially trained surgeons performing robotic surgeries in six different specialties: general surgery, oncology, urology, bariatric, thoracic and gynecology.
The use of robotic surgery has increased steadily each year at Cabell Huntington. In 2016, 617 robotic surgeries were performed – nearly doubling to 1,105 surgeries by 2018, with even more slated for 2019.
Many of Cabell Huntington’s surgeons have performed more than 1,000 surgeries on their da Vinci systems.
Dr. James Jensen, a urologic oncologist and director of robotic surgery at the hospital’s Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center, has performed nearly 1,500 kidney, bladder and prostate cancer surgeries using the da Vinci system, and was one of the first 20 doctors in the country to adopt robotic surgery as a full-time practice.
Dr. Nadim Bou Zgheib, gynecologic oncologist at the Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center, has performed over 1,000 robotic operations. Dr. Blaine Nease, a bariatric surgeon specializing in surgical weight control operations, recently notched his 500th procedure on the da Vinci.
During surgery, the da Vinci robot is docked over the patient and the instruments still typically enter through the abdomen, through much smaller incisions than a traditional laparotomy, which opens up the belly. The surgeon sits at a nearby control panel in the operating room where they can maneuver cameras and instruments with a range exceeding the human hand.
This allows surgeons to move into areas of the body with great precision and better articulate their instruments than what simply a hand can sometimes do, giving a surgeon more control over the work, explained Dr. Amanda Pauley, an OB/GYN at Cabell Huntington.
But while the term “robot” may imply a certain amount of autonomy on the machine’s part, surgeons are entirely in control of the machine at all times, controlling it like any other analog instrument with the traditional skills of surgery still very much in play.
“I think people think of the robot as performing the procedure, but the robot’s just a tool to help us perform a procedure and give patients better outcomes,” Pauley said.
“If surgeons can’t do a laparotomy, they can’t just jump on the robot and do it. You have to know how to do the procedure – there’s no help with the robot.”
One of the more common operations for robotic surgeries are hysterectomies – the removal of a woman’s uterus.
Pauley, who has performed well over 100 gynecological surgeries with the da Vinci system, said patients ultimately benefit the most from the smaller incisions, typically leading to shorter hospital stays, lower risk for complications and smaller visuals left on the body post-operation.
“Most of them go home after breakfast the next morning, and honestly most of them say they don’t even take a pain pill after that first day,” said Pauley.
Information from: The Herald-Dispatch,

W.Va. gov to announce plan to repair secondary roads

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Gov. Jim Justice is set to announce a plan to speed up repairs on secondary roads in West Virginia.
The Republican governor is scheduled to lay out his plan Wednesday, just days after firing his transportation secretary.
Justice says secondary roads aren’t being addressed with the necessary urgency.
On Sunday, Justice announced the firing of state transportation secretary and highways commissioner Tom Smith in a brief statement. Justice called for the department to “return to the core mission of maintaining the quality of our secondary roads and bridges.”
Voters in 2017 passed a referendum for the state to sell $1.6 billion in bonds to finance state road repairs and construction. Justice has proposed steering road bond money meant for major projects toward repairing secondary roads.

West Virginia mayor to resume annual neighborhood walks

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — The mayor of a West Virginia city is resuming his annual neighborhood walks in an effort to motivate residents to become more active.
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams plans to kick off his “Walks with the Mayor” series on March 18 in the city’s Westmoreland neighborhood.
The city says in a news release the community walks began in 2015. Williams and police, fire and public works department representatives have since walked through each of the nine city council districts at least seven times.
The Huntington area drew widespread attention a decade ago for being at the bottom of more than a half-dozen federal health measures, including residents with obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Williams says his walks are a great way to listen to residents’ concerns about improving neighborhoods.

Volunteers sought to drive W.Va. disabled vets to hospitals

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia is seeking volunteer drivers for a partnership to transport disabled veterans to hospital medical appointments.
State Veterans Assistance Secretary Dennis Davis tells The Herald-Dispatch the volunteers are needed at least one day per month for the program that resumes July 1.
Davis says on average about 500 veterans each day need rides to Veterans Affairs medical centers in Beckley, Clarksburg, Huntington and Martinsburg.
The state is partnering with the nonprofit group Disabled American Veterans. The group operated a van transportation program in West Virginia prior to 2014. The state then took it over.
But Davis has said he found some vehicles operated by the state program were being used other than for transporting veterans, while some drivers were going out of state to pick up veterans.
Information from: The Herald-Dispatch,

Dates added for West Virginia education forums

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia education officials have announced additional dates for public forums as part of preparations for an upcoming special legislative session.
The first of seven forums will be held March 18 at Cabell Midland High School.
The Department of Education says in a news release that other forums will be held this month and next at high schools in Welch, Charleston, Beckley, Clarksburg, Wheeling and Bath.
Each forum will start at 6 p.m. and will include discussions in small groups on core education issues.
Gov. Jim Justice last week called the special session to address teacher pay raises and other education issues. He’s asked legislators to meet with teachers, parents and other stakeholders before returning.

Trial set for man accused of killing, dismembering woman

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — A trial date has been set for a West Virginia man accused of killing a woman whose body he hid in pieces.
The Huntington Herald-Dispatch reports jury selection in the trial of 75-year-old Argie Lee Jeffers Sr. is set to start in July. Jeffers was charged with murder and concealment of a deceased human body in February 2018, months after pieces of Carrie Sowards were found in the Guyandotte River.
A criminal complaint says investigators found evidence of a major “bloodletting incident” at Jeffers’ home, along with DNA samples believed to belong to Sowards. Jeffers told police they were in a volatile relationship.
A relative of Jeffers told police he’d been asked to dispose of buckets containing body parts that police said were consistent of those missing from Sowards’ body.
Information from: The Herald-Dispatch,

West Virginia gov fires transportation secretary

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has fired state transportation secretary and highways commissioner Tom Smith.
Justice announced Smith’s firing in a brief statement Sunday.
The governor says he wants “a new direction” for the department, including “a return to the core mission of maintaining the quality of our secondary roads and bridges.”
Voters in 2017 passed a referendum for the state to sell $1.6 billion in bonds to finance state road repairs and construction. In his State of the State address in January, Justice proposed steering road bond money meant for major projects toward repairing secondary roads.
On Friday Justice said he would announce his plans Wednesday to accelerate secondary road repairs and maintenance. The governor said “our secondary roads aren’t being addressed with the urgency needed.”

W.Va. regular session ends, overtime on education looms

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia legislature ended its regular session Saturday and is now moving into a legislative overtime where lawmakers plan to debate teacher raises and other education measures that launched strikes this year and last.
Lawmakers capped their 60-day regular session in an around-the-clock slog spent cramming last-minute legislation and, around midnight, formally entering a special session on education expected to reconvene in later this year.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice called the additional session and has asked legislators to meet with teachers, parents and other stakeholders before returning to the statehouse.
Money for teacher raises has been earmarked in a legislature-approved budget, but the funding won’t go into effect until it’s addressed in the special session.
It’s unclear exactly when the legislature would return, but Republican leadership is signaling they might reconvene in late spring or early summer, which union leaders say might be a strategy to negate the impact of a third strike.
Teachers took to the picket line last month for a two-day strike over a complex education bill that tied their pay raise to the formation of the state’s first charter schools and education savings accounts that would help parents pay for schools.
Schools in all but one of the state’s 55 counties closed as educators protested and packed the state Capitol, arguing that the bill was retaliation for last year’s nine-day strike over pay raises and health insurance.
The proposal eventually failed. But union leaders and lawmakers have recently expressed fears that the special session offers a second opportunity at the measures that caused the strike.
On Saturday, legislators raced against deadline to send multiple proposals to the governor’s office.
They approved a measure to reduce the tax on West Virginia steam coal. Another bill would allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control to women ages 18 or older. A third proposal increases the limit on political donations to candidate committees, state party executive committees and political action committees.
All await the governor’s signature to become law.

Widow of W.Va. miner settles lawsuit over fatal explosion

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The widow of a West Virginia coal miner who was among 29 men killed in the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine explosion has settled a lawsuit against the federal government for $550,000.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports Carolyn Diana Davis recently settled the lawsuit that accused the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration of ignoring warning signs at the mine owned at the time by Massey Energy.
The federal lawsuit filed last year on behalf of Davis’ husband, Charles Timothy Davis, says MSHA didn’t “exercise reasonable care” and failed to inspect or report multiple safety violations.
Four investigations found worn and broken cutting equipment created a spark that ignited accumulations of coal dust and methane gas. Broken and clogged water sprayers then allowed what should have been a minor flare-up to become an inferno.
Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail,

Nominations open for W.Va. volunteer service awards

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Nominations are being accepted for the 2019 Governor’s Service Awards.
The awards honor individual and group volunteers in communities.
Gov. Jim Justice says in a news release residents can submit nominations by a May 17 deadline to Volunteer West Virginia on its website, .
Winners will be honored at a banquet on Sept. 5.