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South Jersey Surgeon Reaches 'Elite' Milestone for Robotic Procedures

August 24, 2023 - Virtua colorectal surgeon Keith Meslin, MD, recently performed his 1,000th robotic procedure, placing him in the top 1% nationally for number of these advanced colorectal surgeries.

August 24, 2023

Virtua Health’s Dr. Keith Meslin enters top 1% nationally after performing 1,000th robotic-assisted colorectal surgery

If practice makes perfect, Keith Meslin, MD, is among the very best in his field. The colorectal surgeon at Virtua Health, South Jersey’s largest health system, recently performed his 1,000th robotic procedure. That places him in the top 1% (or 99th percentile) nationally for number of these advanced colorectal surgeries.

“Dr. Meslin has joined a small group of the country’s most elite robotic surgeons who have achieved this milestone,” says Dr. Jennifer Khelil, Virtua’s senior vice president and chief medical officer. “His clinical skills and expertise are among the very best in the nation.” 

Patient and past co-worker Cheryl Tilton agrees, based on both professional and personal experience. When the surgical assistant and former Virtua nursing director needed colon surgery for a debilitating condition, she wanted Dr. Meslin to perform the procedure.

“I know Dr. Meslin’s skills with the robot are phenomenal,” says Tilton, who has assisted him in the operating room. “When you work with him it’s like working with an artist.” 

In fact, Dr. Meslin was the first in the Philadelphia/South Jersey region to perform robotic colorectal surgery, starting in 2010. The section chief for colon and rectal surgery at Marlton, N.J.-based Virtua, he conducts non-robotic surgery, too, depending on the patient’s needs.

Robotic surgery is an advanced form of minimally invasive surgery. Procedures are done through several small incisions, using tiny, highly precise instruments that the physician manipulates via hand controllers on a console.  A special monitor provides three-dimensional, magnified, high-definition views of the surgical site inside the body.

“I always wanted to do minimally invasive surgery, starting when I was a resident physician,” says Dr. Meslin. He became a colorectal surgeon because that specialty enabled him to perform laparoscopic surgery – an earlier form of minimally invasive surgery. 

A practicing surgeon for 19 years, he is a faculty member of the Penn Medicine | Virtua Health Cancer Program and a clinical assistant professor at Rowan-Virtua School of Osteopathic Medicine. 

As a fellow of both the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons and the American College of Surgeons, Dr. Meslin has achieved advanced requirements for these designations and is board-certified in his field.

“I’m privileged to help so many of my South Jersey neighbors with a range of colorectal conditions,” says Dr. Meslin. “At Virtua, I feel fortunate to be part of a skilled and caring team that truly puts our patients first.”

Indeed, U.S. News & World Report has recognized Virtua Voorhees Hospital as a High Performing Hospital for Colon Cancer Surgery for more than five years in a row. And Virtua last year became one of just 50 providers nationally to receive the prestigious designation National Accreditation for Rectal Cancer Program from the American College of Surgeons. 

Moreover, Virtua has performed more robotic surgeries than any other South Jersey provider – over 20,000 of these procedures to date. 

“We’re dedicated to creating outstanding experiences for each patient, and offering the most advanced robotic procedures is part of that,” says Paul Minnick, senior vice president for Virtua Health and president of Virtua Voorhees and Virtua Marlton hospitals.

From Nursing Director to Patient
In Tilton’s case, Dr. Meslin’s skill enabled her to go from incapacitating pain and other life-altering symptoms, to a full recovery and return to an active life. 

Tilton had recurring bouts of diverticulitis – an infection of small pockets that form in the colon lining – that worsened over the past two-plus years.  

“The pain is like someone putting a knife in you and twisting it. It takes your breath away,” explained the Burlington Township resident. 

She tried other treatments – including two separate weeks of intravenous (IV) antibiotic therapy in the hospital – which reduced her pain temporarily. But every few months, the intense pain would return, along with vomiting and other digestive issues.

“It was impacting my lifestyle. I wasn’t able to do everyday activities. I had to resign from my job,” recalls Tilton, who was then a nursing director at a local surgery center. 

Plus, she knew the illness put her at risk for a dangerous complication: a perforated colon. 

In March, Dr. Meslin removed a 7-inch section of her colon at Virtua Voorhees Hospital. The procedure was especially complex, due to a build-up of scar tissue around nearby organs, caused by Tilton’s diverticulitis.

Dr. Meslin’s expertise plus the robotic system’s fine precision enabled him to delicately separate the diseased part of Tilton’s colon from the surrounding tissue to avoid damaging other organs.

The experience was “fantastic,” she says. “I had surgery on a Thursday and came home on Sunday.” 

Back to Enjoying Life
Tilton recovered quickly and has returned to her previous activities – including work, travel, taking Zumba classes, and spending time with family and friends.

Less than a week after leaving the hospital, she returned to desk work at her nursing-director job.  

“I can do everything now. I’m back to my normal life,” says Tilton, who celebrated her 70th birthday in the hospital, two days after her surgery. “It most certainly was a good birthday gift!”

Today, Tilton is making up for lost time.

The month after her procedure, she spent a long weekend with her girlfriends in Myrtle Beach, and she now goes out to dinner with them at least weekly. In September, she and her extended family will take a 10-day Caribbean cruise.

Tilton is also now able to better care for her husband, Lew, who is undergoing cancer treatment. 

“At times, he was taking care of me,” she recalls. “Now, I feel like a million bucks.” 

Benefits of Robotic-Assisted Surgery

Robotic surgery offers multiple advantages over other forms of surgery, Tilton notes. 

“The robotic procedure enables surgeons to access deeper, smaller areas of the body, where a surgeon’s hand could not fit,” she explains.

Other benefits, says Dr. Meslin, include: 

  • smaller incisions
  • a shorter stay in the hospital
  • less pain and scarring
  • less blood loss
  • lower risk of infection
  • faster recovery

In addition, Virtua uses Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) methods to help patients bounce back faster after colorectal surgery. ERAS protocols used before, during, and after surgery can shorten the length of time in the hospital and significantly minimize pain.

Dr. Meslin and his team offer surgical treatment of anal and colorectal cancers, Crohn’s disease, fecal incontinence, hemorrhoids, anal fissures and fistulae, rectal prolapse, and ulcerative colitis. They also provide colostomy reversals and colonoscopies.

To learn more or schedule an appointment with a Virtua colorectal surgeon, call 888-847-8823 or visit