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Surgical Robot Helps Transplant Kidney From Gloucester Woman To Her Mother

GLOUCESTER (CBS) - Gloucester grandmother Nettie Williams helped get her grandchildren ready to go out for dinner Thursday night, to celebrate her 54th birthday. "You just wouldn't think that I've just had a kidney transplant," she said with a big smile.

She did, though, ending two years of kidney failure and dialysis caused by diabetes – with an organ gifted by her youngest daughter, Ellie.

All of her children offered to donate, but Ellie was the closest match. "Anything to help her get better," the 24-year-old said.

"Her willingness was just amazing," Nettie said.

Nettie Williams
Ellie and Nettie Williams (WBZ-TV)

The surgery done at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington was not your typical kidney transplant. It was the first in New England using a da Vinci surgical robot.

"When I first heard about the robot," said daughter Ellie, "I was thinking 'I don't like that.'"

But the promise of the new technique quickly won over Nettie. "Just the thought of getting a new kidney, not being sick anymore, and not being on dialysis was all very exciting," Nettie said.

Indeed, under the command of surgeon Yee Lee Cheah at Lahey, the robot does complex things in very tight spaces – without a gaping incision.

da Vinci surgical robot
da Vinci surgical robot (WBZ-TV)

"We gave her a two inch incision just by the belly button to put the kidney in," explained Dr. Cheah, "and then all the sewing on the inside we did using the robot."

That meant less surgical trauma and pain, and much faster healing for Nettie. She was up on her feet in two days and out of the hospital in six.

"I did not anticipate how good I would feel so quick," Nettie said.

While robots have become more common in other kinds of surgery these last few years, Dr. Cheah believes expanding it to the most common form of lifesaving transplant – kidneys – is a no-brainer.

And the Williams family agrees.

"That's awesome," said donor Ellie, "and it just opens the door for much more."

But first, there's a birthday to celebrate.

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