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Relief as liver surgery machine arrives at KNH

Rhoda Atieno, 55, was sitting solemnly in one of the wards at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) when we visited her.

She had sought treatment from the facility after complaining about incessant abdominal pains.

Doctors discovered that she had a huge growth on her liver which was successfully removed through surgery.

“I am now feeling better and the pain is gone,” said Ms Atieno from her hospital bed.

Ms Atieno has a reason to celebrate. She is among the first few liver patients who have already benefited from the new digital Sonoca 300 Ultrasonic Surgical Aspirator procured in January by KNH at Sh8 million from Germany.

The machine previously found in only two African countries — South Africa and Egypt — is the first in the country and will enable Kenyans to perform complex liver surgeries involving the removal of tumours (benign or cancerous) that impede the functioning of the liver.

LIVER TRANSPLANTS

It will also enable the hospital to perform liver transplants, often ideal for effective treatment of patients with end-stage liver disease caused by cancer or other liver diseases.

The delicate procedure costs millions of shillings outside the country.

Dr Kennedy Ondede, a liver specialist at KNH says the surgeries are delicate and require the right equipment.

Without which, there can be heavy bleeding, he said, adding “that’s why we shied away from such delicate surgeries. But with this new machine, we can now save the lives of many Kenyans in need of them.”

The digital surgical equipment allows doctors to easily slice through the liver without damaging tissue cells.

It uses ultrasonic vibrations (operating at low frequencies) to dissect the liver.

This produces less heat — compared to conventional electrosurgical techniques — preventing injury to tissue, thus forestalling blood loss in patients.

Bleeding is considered a major concern for liver surgery as it can instantly cause death during a hepatic operation.

Moreover, studies have associated it with a high rate of post operation complications and shorter survival rates for patients.

Similarly, since the equipment generates no heat energy, no cooling system is required before surgeons can use various instruments that come with it such as the scissors or probes.

DIGITAL CONTROL

Doctors will therefore find it easier to operate on patients much faster as they can simultaneously use different instruments without being held back  by heat.

This also minimises the risks of burns inflicted on patients.

The Sonoca 300 ultrasonic surgical aspirator also has a suction system that provides a clean field for doctors — free of any fluids — as they operate on patients.

“When dissecting the liver, blood can form at certain points where the surgery is taking place and this needs to be sucked so that the surgeon can have a clear view of the area,” explained Dr Ondede.

The Sonoca surgical aspirator also comes with an automatic digital control keyboard that allows doctors to modify the intensity of current being used depending on the type of procedure the machine is performing.

SELF-TEST

In addition, he said, once on, the performs a self-test and will only work if parameters are right.

Dr Ondede notes that cases of Kenyans suffering from severe liver illnesses have been on the rise mainly due to excessive drinking of alcohol, Hepatitis B and consumption of foods contaminated with aflatoxin.

KNH alone caters for about 50 patients suffering from liver disease daily, with a majority of them in need of liver transplant or surgical removal of tumours, he said.

“Now we are glad that the machines will enable us to save them as previously most of them would just die.”

While tumour removal surgeries are already taking place at KNH, Dr Ondede noted that transplants will start after the government enacts laws governing the harvesting of human tissues —from live or dead donors — for medical use.

Since the machine is the first of its kind in East and Central Africa, he states that it has the potential of generating revenue for the country through medical tourism.