A top thoracic surgeon performs a right lung lobectomy on Muriel

Muriel “Mimi” Wygren, 76, is a self-proclaimed movie buff, but her greatest source of entertainment is her 26-year-old parrot named Cleo. A Black-headed Caique (pronounced “kai-eke”), Cleo has a personality not unlike that of her owner: funny, talkative and very outgoing.


Unfortunately, Mimi’s social interactions were often accompanied by cigarettes for many years. She had her first smoke when she was a teenager, and her habit gradually increased to two to three packs per day. Then, after 25 years of smoking and a will to improve her health, Mimi decided to throw her last pack of cigarettes away – for good.


Fast-forward to July 2017. Mimi began having pain in her upper back and developed an intense cough. She decided to consult her primary care physician, Betty Yu, M.D., with Edinger Medical Group. Concerned by Mimi’s symptoms, Dr. Yu immediately ordered a chest X-ray which revealed a mass in her lung.


Dr. Yu referred Mimi to the pulmonary and oncology specialists at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center, who ordered a CT-guided biopsy that showed the mass in the lower lobe of her right lung was a malignancy. Pathology further determined it to be non-small cell lung cancer, which accounts for about 80 percent of all lung cancers and is, fortunately, less aggressive than the small cell type.


Though the tumor was already well-developed, an MRI (magnetic resonance image) of Mimi’s brain and a biopsy of lymph nodes in her neck showed that it had not spread outside of her lungs. Her best treatment option was surgery to remove the tumor and nearby lymph nodes, followed by a four-week round of preventive chemotherapy.


Samer Kanaan, M.D., F.A.C.S., thoracic surgeon, specializing in minimally invasive robotic-assisted surgery at Orange Coast Medical Center, was brought onto Mimi’s multidisciplinary team. He met with Mimi and her daughter, Jill, and explained the distinctions between open lung surgery, video-assisted laparoscopic surgery and robotic-assisted surgery.


Open surgery: requires a large incision. It extends from the side of the nipple to the bottom of the scapula (shoulder blade), and the recovery time is three to six months – much of it spent in bed.

Video-assisted surgery: offers a smaller incision and faster recovery, using a much less invasive surgical technique. During a video-assisted surgical procedure, a miniature camera, along with surgical instruments, are inserted through small incisions. The camera transmits images onto a video monitor, guiding the surgeon during the performance of the procedure.

Robotic-assisted surgery: is a minimally invasive surgical technique. Dr. Kanaan is a leader in robotic-assisted surgical procedures, having trained other surgeons to use the four-armed robot for complex surgeries.

For Mimi’s surgery, Dr. Kanaan guided the robot, including one robotic arm that carried a miniature camera, which allowed him to zoom in and magnify the target area up to 10 times, maintaining natural depth perception and high-definition views. The other robotic arms with tiny multi-jointed instruments were manipulated to bend and rotate far beyond the capacities of the human hand. The movements – controlled by Dr. Kanaan from a nearby console – are natural, smooth and extremely precise. The surgical instruments are small enough to be inserted through tiny incisions, measuring just eight to 12 millimeters in length. As a result of this technique, there’s less blood loss and recovery time is reduced to a few weeks or less.

“Robotic-assisted surgery isn’t for everyone, though most patients do qualify. The key is finding the right surgeon at the right hospital for an individual evaluation to determine if robotic-assisted surgery is the best option for you,” states Dr. Kanaan.


Just weeks after surgery, Mimi was back to spending time with Cleo, Poppy, and DeeDee and enjoying movie outings with her daughter.

A comprehensive cancer center

“At the MemorialCare Cancer Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center, we have a very collaborative, multidisciplinary team that includes medical oncology, radiation oncology, surgical oncology, nutrition, genetics, a weekly tumor conference, a nurse navigator and a Lung Cancer Screening Program for those at high risk of developing the disease,” says Dr. Kanaan.


Screenings are the simplest and most effective way to help prevent cancer. In addition to having unparalleled expertise on the leading-edge of cancer diagnosis, care and treatment, the MemorialCare Cancer Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center offers screenings such as the CT lung screening for those who meet the criteria.

For more information, please call 714.378.7650 
or visit memorialcare.org/cancercare.


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MemorialCare is a nonprofit integrated healthcare delivery system that includes leading hospitals – Long Beach Medical Center, Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach, Orange Coast Medical Center and Saddleback Medical Center; award-winning medical groups – MemorialCare Medical Group and Greater Newport Physicians; Seaside Health Plan; and convenient outpatient health centers, imaging centers, surgical centers and dialysis centers throughout Orange and Los Angeles Counties.

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