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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 2, 2009

Pet project for local vet: Dr. Becker performs laparoscopic surgery

By Anne Hayden

The surgeon’s hands are gloved, his eyes glued to the screen above the inert form on the table. He guides his instruments through the abdomen and points out, on the screen, the ovaries, which he is removing.

There are only two tiny incisions in the abdomen, and the doctor never looks down, but navigates the organs entirely by watching the screen. There is no bleeding, and there are no stitches.

The entire spay, start to finish, lasts 20 minutes, and Dr. Edward Becker says the cat will be up and moving comfortably within three hours.

Laparoscopic surgery has become commonplace in the medical community during the last decade, but veterinary medicine has lagged behind. Becker, at The Animal Hospital in Guilderland, is one of the only veterinarians in the state to practice this high-tech procedure on the animals he treats.

Laparoscopy, which comes from the Latin for soft scope, is a technique that uses much smaller incisions than traditional surgery. A lighted telescopic rod lens, connected to a video camera, is inserted through the small incision, and the images are projected onto a screen. A doctor is able to see the internal organs on the screen, and can conduct the surgery from there. In animals, the technique is especially useful for spays, biopsies, and exploratory surgery.

Becker, who founded The Animal Hospital over 30 years ago, said that the advantages of laparoscopic surgery are the same in animals as they are in humans. The procedure is minimally invasive, resulting in less pain, less recovery time, and, especially important in animals, less chance of the animal interfering with the surgical site. There is minimal bleeding, hardly any tear in the muscles, and a reduced need to rearrange the organs during surgery, said Becker.

Since the incision is so small, there is no need to use outside sutures. The animal’s veins are sealed shut on the inside to prevent bleeding, and a high-tech glue is used to close the small surgical wounds. This eliminates the need for an animal to wear an Elizabethan collar — a large plastic funnel that keeps it from biting itself — during recovery, Becker said. It allows the animal to be up and moving much more quickly; owners do not need to worry about keeping their pet inactive.

The procedure helps the doctor performing the surgery, as well. Animals are small in comparison to humans, and, when a vet has his hands inside an animal’s abdomen, they can get in the way and obstruct his vision of the organs, explained Becker. Being able to see everything clearly on the screen, with nothing in the way, allows for a much higher degree of visibility, he said.

Becker said he had heard good things about laparoscopy in animals, and wanted to bring the procedure into his practice. He was surprised to find how few veterinary practices offer the alternative surgery; a quick bit of research revealed that there were only two other animal hospitals in the state that performed the procedure, both of them in New York City, he said.

Becker’s speculation about why laparoscopy is so rarely offered is that other veterinarians may feel the cost outweighs the benefits. There is no equipment produced specifically for use in animals, so Becker had to purchase the same machinery used for humans, he said. There is no way the machinery would pay for itself, unless the hospital dramatically raised the cost of surgery, which it wouldn’t do. “I’m not worried about the cost,” said Becker. “I just feel it’s the right thing to do.”

There is also extensive training involved with learning the technique. Both Becker and his colleague, Dr. Michael McCarthy, attended lectures on the topic. Becker flew Clarence Rawlings, a laparoscopy specialist from Georgia, to New York so that he could learn from a master.

Before Becker offered the procedure to animals in his clinic, he performed hundreds of laparoscopic surgeries on shelter animals, free of charge. He started offering it at The Animal Hospital about a month ago, and since then he and McCarthy have performed about three or four laparoscopic surgeries a week, but Becker said they are geared up to do two a day.

“We’re really excited about it, we see so many benefits,” said Dr. Becker. “It’s such a world of difference.”

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