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Robertsons Invest in the Future of Urologic Cancer Treatment

Through their donation, Carl W. and Susan W. Robertson support translating innovative technology into improved techniques for treating urologic cancers. (Photo/Van Urfalian)

It was purely by accident that Susan Robertson discovered she had kidney cancer. She had been consulting her physician about a separate issue when the malignancy was detected.

Her search for the right surgeon to treat the disease led Robertson to Inderbir Gill, world-renowned in invasive nephron-preserving surgery for renal cancer. (A nephron is a part of the kidney that filters waste from the blood.) “I was told that he was the only one in the country who could treat my kind of cancer,” she said.

Gill’s track record of high achievement inspired Susan Robertson and her husband, Carl, to make a $1 million gift to USC in 2011 in support of his future success.

At the time of Susan Robertson’s renal cancer diagnosis, Gill had performed a double partial nephrectomy (removing two parts of the kidney at the same time), impressing the Robertsons with his remarkable skill and dedication. “I had never met a surgeon who took such a personal interest in caring for his patients,” Susan Robertson said.

Over the years that followed, the Robertsons kept in touch with Gill and took special note in 2008 when he joined USC, Susan’s alma mater. As chair of the Catherine and Joseph Aresty Department of Urology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, associate dean of clinical innovation at the Keck School, and founding executive director of the USC Institute of Urology, Gill has continued to pioneer innovative surgical techniques.

The Robertsons’ donation established the Susan W. and Carl W. Robertson Program for Outpatient Tumor Ablation. Ablation is a minimally invasive method for destroying a tumor. Led by Gill and housed at the USC Institute of Urology, the program focuses on translating innovative technology into improved techniques for treating urological cancers.

The Outpatient Tumor Ablation Program builds upon USC’s expertise in minimally invasive robotic and laparoscopic kidney-saving surgery by enhancing surgeons’ ability to target cancerous cells with pinpoint accuracy. Surgeons can use real-time guidance incorporating advanced medical robotics systems as they seek out and destroy malignancies. This capability contrasts with the practice currently used by most surgeons of relying on CT scans or MRIs performed days or even weeks before a surgery—outdated images that may affect the accuracy of the procedure.

The gift opens up possibilities that go beyond the treatment of renal cancer. Both Susan and Carl Robertson lost their fathers to an aggressive form of prostate cancer, and their donation will enhance surgeons’ approaches to that disease, as well.

As the Robertsons see it, the potential benefits are far-reaching and the implications enormous. “We feel that the Outpatient Tumor Ablation Program truly has the power to reshape medicine and change lives,” Susan Robertson said, making surgery less invasive, with easier recovery rates.

“Our hope is to make a lasting difference, and Dr. Gill is exactly the right person to reach that goal,” Susan Robertson said. As he improves surgical outcomes here at home, he has also set his sights on strengthening kidney and prostate health across the globe, lecturing and demonstrating new techniques so that surgeons the world over are able to save lives. “It’s an exciting time to be in medicine,” she said. “And to be a patient!"

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