“As early as I can remember, I told everyone I was going to be a doctor,” Dr. Daniel Eun, of Juniper and Federal streets, said. “I used to hang in clinics where my father was the only physician, where they had no access to health care. … There were patients down the block.
“I remember looking at that and admiring that so much, being able to give people care.”
Eun, 39, eventually followed in father Sang-Kee Eun’s footsteps. The urologist recently also broke new ground, performing the first-of-its-kind specialty robot-assisted single-incision surgery to repair a ureteropelvic junction.
“The kidney cannot drain off the bladder. There is a blockage,” Eun said. “Normally it’s congenital — you’re born with it.”
The surgery, called a plyeloplasty, was originally performed through one large open incision, under the ribs, which can be painful and require a long recovery period.
“That’s not being done so much because it’s a painful incision to have. It’s right alongside your ribs and you can be in pain for months on end,” he said. “More recently, surgery has migrated to minimally invasive surgery. The first technology of minimum-invasive surgery was laparoscopic surgery, but it’s very limited in the degree of freedom the surgical instruments [have].”
The breakthrough, which was performed on a 47-year-old female patient April 19, used a specifically designed robot that allowed the surgeon and his team to enter through a single incision in the belly button, as opposed to entering each instrument through a separate incision, as is typically done in laparoscopic surgery. Physicians in Milan, Italy, have explored the procedure.
“Straight laparoscopic surgery is very tedious, very labor-intensive. It takes somebody with a lot of skill to do it,” Eun, who has been performing surgeries in a geographical area that stretches from New York down to Maryland because of the skill involved, said. “The robot instruments allow surgeons to [move] … like the wrist extends. It gives surgeons a human hand capability.”
Born in South Korea, Eun spent his childhood moving from place to place with his father, a physician and missionary. He had left South Korea at age 4, and was raised in the West Bank before coming stateside when he was 10.
“People would laugh and say, ‘You’re so young, how do you know [you want to be a physician]?’” he said. “There was just an internal spark inside me when I was growing up.”
Inspired by his hero, his father, Eun began medical studies at Temple University after receiving his bachelor’s degree from Penn State University.
“I remember, as a third-year med student at Temple I was rotating under Amy Goldberg, a well-known professor of surgery and director of the trauma program at Temple,” Eun said. “… She was a hero in my mind of what a surgeon looks like and behaves like.”
In addition to his personal inspirations, Eun was drawn to the technical proficiency the profession requires.
“I saw they were using very small scopes, laser fibers, kind of like Star Wars — red dots with lasers,” he said. “The eye-hand coordination involved looked like it was fun. And I thought, ‘I can do that.’ [It’s] the same eye-hand coordination it takes to excel at robotic surgery. The eye-hand coordination piece really spoke to me. Now it’s what I am using to help a lot of people with cancer.”
Eun had the good fortune to spend his residency in Detroit at Henry Ford Hospital’s Vattikuti Urology Institute, which afforded him a look at cutting-edge technology that he did not expect to find.
“What I didn’t know was it was, in a year or two, to become the epicenter of robotic activity in the world,” Eun said. “The robotic revolution in urology started at Henry Ford Hospital.”
Upon finishing his time in Detroit, Eun and his wife, Ronia, had to decide where to set down roots.
“My wife lived with me in Philadelphia, but she is originally from New York, but she lived here for a few years,” he said. “She also liked Philadelphia, as well.”
They decided to return to the area for an opportunity at Pennsylvania Hospital and set up shop.
“We love it. We love the neighborhood. My wife and I make an attempt to go out and visit Passyunk Avenue at least once or twice a month,” Eun said. “My wife walks with my son to Ninth and Christian to his school [Christopher Columbus Charter School]. We go to Di Bruno [Bros.,] and Claudio [Specialty Foods], Espisito’s [Meats in the Italian Market] — such a wonderful living experience.”
In addition to his eldest, Caleb, 8, Eun has daughters Gabriella, 3, and Sarah, 1. When the family first settled into Philadelphia, Eun realized he had a unique opportunity to bring his cutting-edge training here.
“In the six years I was [in Detroit], I had an unbelievable experience. Walking away from that and coming to Philadelphia I realized I was given a gift and unusual ability,” he said. “Being at a place like that taught me to see the world completely differently. I could be on the front end of the learning curve, bring this technology in a real way [to Philadelphia].
“I’ve heard but I don’t know if its true or not that Philadelphia, per capita, has the highest density of physicians in the world … so what better place is there to use this cutting-age work.”
Eun has stayed true to his word. After taking on the role of Pennsylvania Hospital’s director of robotic and minimally invasive urological oncology & reconstruction, Eun headed to Temple April 1 to serve as its robotic surgery vice chief and minimally invasive robotic urological oncology director, as well as associate professor of clinical urology at Temple University School of Medicine. The recent surgery, which had spectacular results, is just the first in what Eun hopes will be a long line of advancements to provide patients with the best possible care.
“Where those advancements lie in single-incision and traditional robotics remains to be seen. You are taking something at 98 percent and trying to show it’s 99 percent or even 100 percent. It’s very hard to show differences when things are very good,” Eun said. “But I think it is a gateway procedure.”
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