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Northside Hospital's elite vascular team uses robotics to get surgical results

Being the three headed helm of a large surgical team that spans three campuses, it is unsurprsingly difficult to get Dr. Catalin Harbuzariu, Dr. Siddharth Patel and Dr. Edward Kang in the same place at the same time. But that’s exactly what happened at Northside Hospital’s Atlanta branch on a late September afternoon.

Dr. Harbuzariu is running late, I am told by Dr. Patel as I am greeted in the lobby. Harbuzariu was held up with a surgery. Pretty good excuse, I suppose; can’t really be mad at a guy taking his time on a surgical patient.

I had met Dr. Patel a week or so earlier, at a vascular surgery he let me sit in on, though we didn’t shake hands or speak very long. He thanked me for coming out and asked how I was doing, which is a harder question to answer than one might think with a semi-conscious body lying on an operating table in front of you. The meeting at Northside Atlanta was our first formal meeting. He was very easy to talk to.

Patel is from Georgia, Kang is from Illnois and Harbuzariu hails from Romania. But the three have an obvious connection. They speak to each other constantly.

Patel introduced me to Kang as we waited on Harbuzariu.  I had also somewhat informally met Dr. Kang, though even less so than I had met Dr. Patel, at the same surgery I sat in on previously. Someone just pointed Kang out in the operating room; he was really just there observing.

In contrast to Dr. Patel, Kang was a little more intimidating. That may be because he is a bigger guy, north of six foot, but, really, just as amicable as Patel.

As I am setting up my equipment, I can hear them discussing some cases from the day. A third voice joins in; it’s Dr. Harbuzariu, a tall, slender man with an unmistakable eastern European accent.

The three spoke to each other calmly, but every sentence seemed deliberate and thorough: surgical, you might say.

They’ve really only known each other for about 2 years, and were even more recently, as in a little more than two months ago, tasked with heading up Northside’s prestigious Vascular  Unit.

“We have begun to meet and talk much more frequently, really trying to figure out what the vision for this program is,” Patel said. “We decided that not just one of us should take that position ... we are going to do it by committee since we value each others’ opinions and thoughts and want to do it corroboratively.”

That vision also involves combining the three surgeons’ academic interests, through clinical trials and research, with the convenience, stability and comfort of a private practice.

According to Dr. Patel there are already several clinical trials available to Northside patients, some of which, no other hospital in Georgia has access to.

That’s not the only thing that’s nearly exclusively available to Northside vascular patients.

Northside is the first and only hospital in Georgia with a Magellan Robotic System used for endovascular surgeries. The robot makes it light years easier for surgeons to go in and remove fatty build-ups from the inner walls of small arteries, a condition known as peripheral arterial disease.

“We are salvaging more limbs and helping people keep their legs with pedal access and robotic procedures when previously we would have no option but to amputate a limb,” Kang explained. “Which is an amazing reality.”

Harbuzariu added that successfully cutting down recovery time, is a big part of a patient oriented approach he believes is imperative.

“Whether my treatment has helped the patients to return their lives is the real measure of success,” he said.

Incredible medical advances and patient interaction aside, what happens every day at Northside Hospital, whether that be in Atlanta, Forsyth or Cherokee counties, would not be possible without an enormous team of moving parts. More than 50 people, everything from office managers, to operating room assistants help keep the trio mobile.

The doctors realize this.

“With this program being so big, we have to continue to keep it well oiled, we could not do it without the rest of the team,”  Patel said.

After unintentionally being mesmerized by all of the doctor speak for some time while setting up, I snapped out of it and was ready for our shoot.

Fifteen minutes later we were finished, and thank God, too. That’s probably all they had time for.