By Helen Ford
Maurice Hepworth made his name playing football for Sunderland. He now raises awareness of prostate cancer, as a result of his personal experiences.
Mr Hepworth's life was saved by an operation at Sunderland Royal Hospital. The procedure was performed using a surgical robot.
As someone who has previously gone through traditional open surgery, Mr Hepworth says his recovery from the robotic procedure was quicker and less arduous, enabling him to walk and exercise within around ten days.
Robotic procedures are an advanced form of keyhole surgery. Surgeons say its benefits to patients include less scarring, less pain and faster recovery, along with the likelihood of fewer complications.
Maurice Hepworth is one of a growing number of people to receive robotic surgery. The team at Sunderland recently clocked up its one thousandth operation using the robot which it acquired in 2013.
Use of the robot has been championed by urology consultant Mr Kanagasabai Sahadevan. Sitting at a console in the operating theatre, he manoeuvres the medical instruments, guided by 3D vision, which can be magnified up to ten times. This, he explains, allows the surgeon to be more precise. The other advantage for the surgeon is the ability to twist the instruments with huge accuracy.
While much of the robotic surgery in Sunderland concentrates on prostate cancer operations, the device is also being used in other procedures too. Ear, nose and throat consultant Miss Helen Cocks is among those now using robotic surgery. For example, she says it can reduce the side effects of traditional treatments on some patients with tonsil and tongue cancer.
Surgeons say they are proud to offer what they describe as 'world class' robotic surgery to patients in the North East and are working on techniques to perform ever more complex procedures.
Watch Helen Ford's report here: WARNING - the report contains scenes within an operating theatre