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Advances in health and medicine.
Marjorie Bekaert Thomas
Advances in health and medicine.
Asthma & Allergies Channel
Reported November 8, 2010

Robot Rebuilds Throats

BRONX, NY (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Nearly 40,000 people every year face a brutal battle with head and neck cancer. When caught early, there's a good chance of survival but treatment is rigorous. Sometimes it means taking away basic abilities like swallowing, eating and talking. We introduce you to a man who says with the help of a robot. He can enjoy family dinners again.

He's a firefighter, a cook, and a cancer survivor. But Tom Scaccia's most important title: grandpa.

"You see those two babies, those are my granddaughters. I'm not in the ground, so every morning I get up I see them, that's the important part," Scaccia told Ivanhoe.

He had a tumor in tongue that spread to his throat. Chemo and 33 radiation treatments destroyed the tumor and most of his throat.

"That was the hard part not being able to eat, I fed myself through a tube in my stomach," Scaccia said.

Doctors decided to reconstruct his throat using skin, tissue and blood vessels from his forearm. A massive operation.

"You'd have to split the lip in the middle you'd have to split the jaw, open it up like a book just to get there," Richard V. Smith, M.D. Facs, Professor and vice-chair Otorhinolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

Instead, Dr. Richard Smith and Dr. Evan Garfein used a robot to rebuild Scaccia's throat.  The robot's arms went through Scaccia's mouth. With surgeons at the controls, they removed the dead tissue. Through a small incision in the neck they inserted the healthy skin and tissue from tom's forearm.

"The tissue there is very thin and pliable which is good for the base of the tongue it doesn't interfere with swallowing or speaking," Evan Garfein, M.D., Montefiore Medical Center, added.

It means a three-inch incision instead of splitting the jaw. One day in the hospital instead of three weeks and one month recovery instead of three.

A couple of months after surgery, Scaccia's back in the driver's seat.

Not exactly fighting fires yet, but another very important job at the fire houseā€¦

"Some macaronis with pork sauce," Scaccia described. MORE

More Information

Click here for additional research on Robot Rebuilds Throats

Click here for Ivanhoe's full-length interview with Dr. Richard Smith

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Melissa Medalie at

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