Specialty: Thoracic & Cardiac Surgery
Title: Chief of Thoracic Surgery
Hospital: Westchester Medical Center, the flagship of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network
Immediately after completing her fellowship in surgical oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering and a cardiothoracic residency at the University of Wisconsin, Tracey Weigel, MD, was given the opportunity to build a brand-new, minimally invasive thoracic surgery program at the University of Pittsburgh. Weigel jumped at the chance to create the pioneering program. “I joined my dear friend and colleague Jim Luketich, and, along with our colleagues, we built one of the busiest minimally invasive thoracic surgery practices in the USA, focusing on minimally invasive surgery for thoracic malignancies and complex benign esophageal problems,” Weigel says. “We worked hard to develop new techniques to perform minimally invasive surgery for both esophageal and lung cancer.”
In 2016, Weigel joined WMC as Chief of Thoracic Surgery. In her newest role, she is still a pioneer in her field, creating a thriving robotic oncology program at WMC devoted to caring for the highest acuity and most complex patients in the country.
Why is the new robotic oncology program such a big deal for cancer patients in Westchester?
The most meaningful recent work I’ve done has been to help develop the robotic thoracic oncology and foregut programs here at WMC. The robot’s highly specialized instrumentation and new energy and fluorescence technologies enable us to perform more complex robotic procedures with increased precision on more individuals.
We now routinely perform robotic lung, esophageal, gastric, adrenal, and mediastinal robotic surgeries for benign and malignant diseases and conditions. Our robotic surgery volume at WMC has increased tremendously since the program’s inception and a second state-of-the-art robot will arrive at the medical center in the near future.
What innovations are you most excited about using in your practice today?
Some of the most exciting advances in thoracic surgery have been the universal acceptance of low-dose CT screening for early detection of lung cancer and the advances in minimally invasive surgery techniques, including robotics, that allow more patients to be candidates for curative thoracic surgeries.
Can you share any real-life examples of when the robot allowed you to save a life?
One of my most memorable cases involved resecting an 85-year-old man’s esophageal cancer robotically, when three years previously he had been told he was “too old” for surgery. The surgery was a success and I heard from the same patient just recently. He is doing well and remains free of cancer!
Are open surgeries becoming a thing of the past?
I do believe traditional open elective surgery is rapidly becoming historical; nearly 98 percent of surgeries I perform are done minimally invasively and most robotically.