Dr. Mauricio Velasquez is probably one of the most famous thoracic surgeons that you’ve never heard of. His thoracic surgery program at the internationally ranked Fundacion Valle del Lili in Cali, Colombia is one of just a handful of programs in the world to offer single port thoracic surgery. Dr. Velasquez has also single-handedly created a surgical registry for thoracic surgeons all over Colombia and recently gave a presentation on the registry at a national conference. This registry allows surgeons to track their surgical data and outcomes, in order to create specifically targeted programs for continued innovation and improvement in surgery (similar to the STS database for American surgeons).
Dr. Velasquez is also part of a team at Fundacion Valle del Lili which aims to add lung transplant to the repertoire of services available to the citizens of Cali and surrounding communities.
He is friendly, and enthusiastic about his work but humble and apparently unaware of his growing reputation as one of Colombia’s finest surgeons.
Education and training
After completing medical school at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana in Medellin in 1997, he completed his general surgery residency at the Universidad del Valle in 2006, followed by his thoracic surgery fellowship at El Bosque in Bogotá.
The Colombia native has also trained with thoracic surgery greats such as Dr. Thomas D’Amico at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and single port surgery pioneer, Dr. Diego Gonzalez Rivas in Coruna, Spain. He is also planning to receive additional training in lung transplantation at the Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio this summer.
Single port surgery
Presently, Dr. Velasquez is just one of a very small handful of surgeons performing single port surgery. This surgery is an adaptation of a type of minimally invasive surgery called video-assisted thoracoscopy. This technique allows Dr. Velasquez to perform complex thoracic surgery techniques such as lobectomies and lung resections for lung cancer through a small 2 – 3 cm incision. Previously, surgeons performed these operations using either three small incisions or one large (10 to 20cm) incision called a thoracotomy.
By using a tiny single incision, much of the trauma, pain and lengthy hospitalization of a major lung surgery are avoided. Patients are able to recovery and return to their lives much sooner. The small incision size, and lack of rib spreading means less pain, less dependence on narcotics and a reduced incidence of post-operative pneumonia and other complications caused by prolonged immobilization and poor inspiratory effort.
However, this procedure is not just limited to the treatment of lung cancer, but can also be used to treat lung infections such as empyema, and large mediastinal masses or tumors like thymomas and thyroid cancers.
Part of his success in due in no small part to Dr. Velasquez’s surgical skill, another important asset to his surgical practice is his wife, Dr. Indira Cujiño, an anesthesiologist specializing in thoracic anesthesia. She trained for an additional year in Spain, in order to be able to provide specialized anesthesia for her husband’s patients, including in special circumstances, conscious sedation. This allows her husband to operate on critically ill patients who cannot tolerate general anesthesia. While Dr. Cujiño does not perform anesthesia for all of Dr. Velasquez’s cases, she is always available for the more complex cases or more critically ill patients.
In the operating room with Dr. Velasquez
I spent the day in the operating room with Dr. Velasquez for several cases and was immediate struck by the ease and adeptness of the single port approach. (While I’ve written quite a bit about the literature and surgeons using this technique, prior to this, I’ve had only limited exposure to the technique intra-operatively.) Visibility and maneuverability of surgical instruments was vastly superior to multi-port approaches. The technique also had the advantage that it added no time, or complexity to the procedure (unlike robotic surgery).
Cases proceeded rapidly; with no complications.
Note to readers – some of the content, and information obtained during interviews, conversations etc. with Dr. Velasquez may be used on additional websites aimed at Colombia-based readers.
Zarama V, Velásquez M. (2012). Mainstem Bronchus Transection after Blunt Chest Trauma. J Emerg Med. 2012 Feb 3.