Scott Swinehart is a busy, active guy.

He enjoys chopping wood, working with his tractor and walking with his dog, Roxy, around his Newaygo, Michigan, property perched high above the Muskegon River.

In early 2020, lower abdominal pain began to cramp his style.

“I picked up my grandson and then all of a sudden, it was like, ‘Oh boy, somebody needs to take him,’” Swinehart said. “I knew right then and there it wasn’t good. I was in a lot of pain.”

He went to Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial Walk-in Clinic in Newaygo, where the care team immediately diagnosed an inguinal hernia, a condition where part of an internal organ or tissue protrudes through a weak area of abdominal muscle.

He scheduled a pre-surgical appointment with Erich Schafer, DO.

In March 2020, Dr. Schafer repaired Swinehart’s hernia using robot-assisted surgery.

Coincidentally, the doctor and patient had already met at an open house at Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial the previous November, when the da Vinci robotic surgery system had been introduced to the community.

Swinehart, current chairperson of the Gerber Memorial Advisory Board, attended the event to see the new technology.

“Scott and I met at the robotic open house, so he was already on board with this even before we did our first robotics case,” Dr. Schafer said.

Greater precision, control

The da Vinci system is a robot-assisted surgical technology that lets a surgeon operate through a few small incisions, rather than making large incisions. It’s similar to traditional laparoscopy.

Instead of directly manipulating any instruments, however, the surgeon uses the da Vinci’s multiple arms to translate hand movements into smaller, meticulous movements of tiny instruments inside the patient’s body.

The surgeon sits at a console, looking at a high-definition, 3D image of the surgical site captured by a tiny endoscope camera on one of the device’s arms.

The system provides the surgeon with enhanced vision, precision and control.

Across Spectrum Health, doctors have performed more than 20,000 robot-assisted procedures.

Dr. Schafer has performed more than 250 robot-assisted surgeries at Gerber Memorial. He’s become a local champion for using robotic surgery.

“The surgeons utilizing the robotic platform can see the advantages of improved visualization, better dexterity, decreased operator fatigue and improved patient satisfaction,” Dr. Schafer said.

For Swinehart, a financial advisor with Edward Jones, this meant he got back into his Newaygo office just a few days following his procedure, working part time.

Swinehart’s hernia repair was pretty straightforward, but it’s an example of providing state-of-the-art care locally so people in smaller communities don’t have to drive to bigger cities for the same procedure, Dr. Schafer said.

“The advantage of the minimally invasive repair comes with a decreased risk of short-term recurrence, lower infection risk, shorter return to work, less postoperative pain, and less risk of chronic postoperative pain,” he said.

In addition to the convenience, patients enjoy receiving care from people they know, he said.

‘Neighbors taking care of neighbors’

“In a small town like this, it’s neighbors taking care of neighbors and family taking care of family,” Dr. Schafer said. “We take that very seriously and work hard to keep that family atmosphere as much as possible while still maintaining exceptional patient care.”

That certainly became the case for Swinehart, who has developed a friendship with Dr. Schafer.

“It was a great experience,” Swinehart said. “It went very quick. It was short and sweet—the recovery was good.”

That quick recovery also meant Swinehart could get back to an active life in the community he loves.

He has fond memories of fishing and hunting in the area with his grandfather while growing up in Comstock Park. He always knew he’d live in the Newaygo area.

After serving in the Marine Corps and Army in the Gulf War, the Iraq War and the war in Afghanistan, Swinehart moved to the area to teach in Newaygo Public Schools. He later transitioned to his financial advisor role.

One constant has been his love of the community, especially the outdoors.

He enjoys watching deer and other wildlife at his home.

“It’s my own little nature preserve,” he said, laughing. “Roxy and I hang out quite a bit and go for walks. That’s kind of what we do.”