In 1987, a doctor named Masayuki Sada read an article that changed his life. Doctors in France were using a new technique called laparoscopic surgery. Unlike traditional surgery, this innovative method left minimal scarring on the patient’s skin, with faster and easier recovery time.
Dr. Sada, a graduate of the Kurume University School of Medicine, was so impressed by the technique that, in 1990, he decided to go to Germany and study it in depth. His aim was to use laparoscopy for the purpose of cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal), a common but then-problematic operation. By 1991, he had brought this revolutionary surgery to Japan, becoming the first doctor to perform it in Fukuoka City. Since then, at the Fukuoka hospital founded by his grandfather in the early Showa period, Dr. Sada has used laparoscopy in over 5,200 gallbladder removals—causing him to become known nationwide by the nickname “God Hands.”
The traditional way of surgery, known as “open” cholecystectomy, involved cutting a wide area of the stomach. It left a noticeable scar and required at least two weeks of recuperation. Laparoscopic surgery, in contrast, used multiple small incisions to insert laparoscopes, usually cables with lights and cameras attached. These instruments would illuminate the inside of the abdomen and allow the surgeon to work within the body. In the case of gallbladder removal, the organ could be “deflated” and removed through one of the incisions. With the advent of this procedure, surgeons no longer had to cut open the abdominal cavity, so the patient’s pain, trauma and healing time were all greatly reduced.
Sada Hospital, which opened in 1940 with only 14 beds, has grown steadily in size and status while maintaining an emphasis on constant education and the acquisition of new skills and technology. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the hospital’s pioneering use of laparoscopy. In 1998, the expertise gained from its thousands of successful operations led to advances in minimally invasive short-stay and outpatient surgeries, using forceps only three millimeters in diameter. It became possible for 100 patients to be released within a single day.
In 2009, the treatment was improved even more by the introduction of a brand-new, even less invasive method called SPS (Single Port Surgery) or SILS (Single Incision Laparoscopic Surgery). Previously, laparoscopy had used four small incisions and required a hospital stay of five or six days. Now, only a single 1.5-centimeter incision is made on the umbilicus (belly button). A special, flexible camera is used, meaning that any trauma for the patient is lessened to a bare minimum. The entire operation takes only 30 minutes to an hour, and the scar is very small and inconspicuous. There is little pain afterwards, and dissolving stitches are used so there is no need to remove them. Convalescence can take as little as one to three days.
SPS was introduced in Japan and has since spread around the world. The method is becoming especially popular with athletes. Smaller and fewer incisions mean less damage to muscles and other tissue, and there’s no need to miss matches or sit out on valuable training time during a lengthy hospital stay.
In addition to those with gallbladder problems, another group is benefiting from this form of surgery: people whose palms perspire excessively. “The patients tell me they’re too embarrassed to shake hands,” Dr. Sada says, “and some of them can’t even take exams because the papers become too wet with sweat.” In the past, because of the expense and difficulty of surgery, many who suffered from this disorder (clinically called hyperhidrosis palmaris) would have tried to live with it as best they could. Now the problem can be alleviated by a surgeon who carries out treatment on the sympathetic nervous system through a simple incision under the armpit.
As one might imagine, because of the advanced technology and skill needed for SPS, it has to be performed by experienced and highly trained specialists. In Kyushu, only the Sada and Oita University hospitals use the method. Dr. Sada is certified by the Japan Society for Endoscopic Surgery, in addition to numerous other qualifications, and he has gained a reputation as a recognized authority in the field.
Of course, the new type of surgery is a big improvement for the patients, but as Dr. Sada jokingly points out, short operations and quick recoveries aren’t great for business (though of course his patients are top priority): “I have to strive hard for a good reputation, so I can bring in more patients!” It looks like he doesn’t have to worry. Less than a year after the introduction of SPS at Sada Hospital, over 150 procedures had been carried out—the highest number in Japan. And because of his reputation, patients have been coming from all over Japan and even other parts of the world. We can be proud that Dr. Sada’s hospital is right here in Fukuoka, breaking new ground and leading the way into the future of medicine!
By Tess Burke