When 48-year old Melissa Bingham’s physician recommended surgery to remove her thyroid and an enlarged, but noncancerous nodule on her thyroid, the Clinton, Tennessee woman cringed at the thought of a large scar across her neck.

“As a woman I thought, ‘Do I really want to look like I’ve had my throat cut?’” confesses Bingham. Conventional open thyroid surgery usually involves a long neck incision for most patients and a visible scar.

Melissa (center) poses with Mel, RN and Dr. David Harrell at follow-up appointment after her robotic thyroid surgery.

Bingham shared her concerns with Dr. David Harrell, the Premier Surgical surgeon her physician referred her to for the procedure.  Bingham was delighted when Dr. Harrell, who has performed more than 700 surgeries using a robotically-assisted system, suggested that she could be a candidate for a robotic thyroidectomy.

“We discussed it and I watched a robotic thyroid surgery online that was performed in Korea,” explains Bingham.  “Dr. Harrell had already been trained to do this surgery robotically and I felt confident in his ability.”

Dr. Harrell says experience in thyroid procedures and his frequent use of robotic surgery techniques were a natural combination for performing a robotic thyroidectomy.  “It involves the same robotic instruments we already use every day and offers people a way to have a thyroid safely removed without a visible neck scar.”

With robotically-assisted surgery, robotic instruments and a 3-D camera are inserted into the surgery site using tiny incisions. The surgeon controls the instruments from a computer console. The camera and instruments give the surgeon a detailed view and excellent precision. Patients have less scaring, pain and a quicker recovery versus traditional surgery.

On March 5, 2020, Dr. Harrell successfully performed Bingham’s thyroidectomy with the da Vinci Surgical System at Tennova Healthcare’s North Knoxville Medical Center. He used small incisions in her arm pits and chest to remove a golf-ball sized mass that included Bingham’s thyroid and the nodule. It was the first robotic thyroidectomy performed in the state of Tennessee.

Bingham was surprised at the reaction she received after the procedure. “I had no stiches or drains. When people saw me they couldn’t believe I had just had thyroid surgery!”

Dr. Harrell is pleased to have performed the first robotic thyroidectomy in the state and expects the use of this innovative technique to increase.

“Thyroid disease is becoming more common. We’re doing more screenings now and finding thyroid nodules more frequently,” explains Dr. Harrell. “I’m excited to offer this new surgical option to patients.”

Melissa Bingham agrees. “I would highly recommend it to anyone. Given the choice, I’d definitely have a little temporary tenderness across my upper chest than a big scar across my neck.”