The last month, I’ve been able to discuss CDH1 and/or the total gastrectomy procedure with several people who are in the manic “shock” phase of a CDH1 diagnosis. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on both my recovery and the wide array of recovery complications for other individuals. As such, it seemed prudent to give my opinion for how to choose a surgeon. When all is said and done, you’ve got one shot to get the surgery done the right way.
My surgeon was Dr. Paul Mansfield at MD Anderson in Houston, TX. He is fabulous, and I can’t thank him enough. He performed my brother’s surgery, as well as 5 other CDH1ers I’ve met. None of us have had major complications.
Below is how I group what you should care about in choosing a surgeon.
- How many gastrectomies has your potential surgeon performed?
- You want someone who knows what they’re doing.
- What is your leakage rate?
- The anastomosis is the fancy medical term for the connection of your esophagus to your small intestines. This is the most critical element of your surgery that will impact your post-gastrectomy life. You want the food in your esophagus to stay inside the esophagus and the small intestines.
- What technique do you use for the anastomosis?
- Stay far aware from any surgeon who staples this connection. Staples lead to a higher incidence of strictures. Strictures are when the anastomosis contracts and you can’t get food through. When this happens, your only option to address the problem is to go through a series of dilations to get the stricture opened back up.
- To be clear, a stricture could happen with a hand-sewn anastomosis, but it greatly reduces the incidence of stricture. Your job is to minimize all likelihood of the complication with the best practice.
- I haven’t had any strictures, and Mansfield specifically discussed performing the anastomosis with hand stitching. This is why my surgery was performed half laproscopically and half open. To minimize risks, the surgery starts laproscopically. Then they cut the vertical incision in order to perform the anastosmosis by hand.
- How are you confident that your anastomosis is sealed and done right? So apparently the human digestive system can identify leaks the same way you identify leaks in a car engine. They submerge the connection in water and put a puff of air through your esophagus. If they see air bubbles, they have a problem.
- A lot of other bloggers mentioned a barium swallow test before they were allowed to start eating. I didn’t do one. When I asked Mansfield, he said the possibility is there for both false positive and false negative results. As such, the surgeon needs to be confident in their connection. When I asked how, he explained the water submerge technique.
- Feeding Tube – You Need One
- I’m a huge fan of the feeding tube. Given my pre-surgery weight, I didn’t have a lot of extra weight to lose. But even if I was overweight, I would be sure to have the surgeon put in the feeding tube. It’s a backup plan. If your recovery has complications, it’s not like you can easily go in for an additional procedure to put the feeding tube in after the fact. You want the feeding tube in place while you’re on the table. If you hate the feeding tube, great. Just don’t use it. Prove that your oral intake is good enough to have controlled weight loss.
- You’ll be going in for major abdominal surgery. At the very moment your body needs full nutrition in order to heal and repair itself is not the right time to malnourish your body.
- Uncontrolled substantial weight loss creates a whole other set of additional complications above and beyond recovering and adjusting to your new digestive plumbing. You’ll have plenty of time post TG to lose weight if you want because remember that you don’t feel hungry anymore.
- The Surgeon
- Make sure you like the person. My doctor was not only compassionate and caring, but also experienced, knowledgeable and logical. He provided sound medical test results that supported his rationale for every technique he used for my surgery.
- Don’t have your surgery at a small local hospital. Go to a major hospital with expertise. But that being said, I can’t believe there is only one doctor in the United States capable and experienced. If you’re near Houston, by all means, call up Dr. Mansfield. If not, there is probably one at a whatever great major hospital is near you. Just do your research, ask the questions and compare. It’s worth your time.
The only other surgery-related concerns I would have before a total gastrectomy is about your own health. If you can get yourself into great shape before surgery while eating up a storm to pack a few pounds, do it. Go to the gym 6 days a week leading up to surgery, whatever you have to do. I can’t tell you why my recovery has gone so well, but I won’t discredit the unknown benefits of exercise. For me, I thank my crazy running habit for my amazing recovery.
Hope this is helpful.
And of course no new blog post is complete without a picture. Post gastrectomy life should be a constant attempt to live life to its fullest. If a brush with cancer and a major internal plumbing change doesn’t force you to focus your life priorities, I’m not sure what will!! For me, I love music, so I make sure to always get to some good concerts. This past month, I was able to go to Mumford & Sons. They put on an amazing concert!! Here we are getting into the concert venue for our date night! It was a blast! Kyle is my rock and greatest supporter everyday, and I am so blessed to live my life with him.