3-D Thinking

He didn’t set out to become a guru, but surgeons come from around the world to learn from Robert McKenna Jr., MD. He teaches them how to perform a minimally invasive procedure for lung cancer surgery that he developed. “I’m always looking at new treatments and trying to think of ways to do it better,” he says.

Dr. McKenna, co-director and surgical director of the Women’s Guild Lung Institute, pioneered a procedure called video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) twenty years ago. He used his “3-D sense of things” to imagine the best angles for performing lung surgery through small incisions, with a tiny TV camera lens in the patient’s chest serving as his guide.

Dr. McKenna’s procedure produces the same results as traditional, rib-spreading surgery—with quicker recovery, less pain, and fewer complications.

The minimally invasive procedure is used in 95 percent of the operations Dr. McKenna’s team performs while, across the nation, only 5 percent of major lung resections are done this way. He hopes to change this by training his peers—and his 3-D mind keeps moving, always seeking a new angle for the next revolution in lung surgery.

“My patients have been able to play tennis less than a week after surgery. It’s beyond rewarding to give a patient recovering from cancer that kind of opportunity.”

—Robert McKenna Jr., MD

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