Two for One Special:
A Lifesaving Surgical Deal
Preparing for Weight Loss Surgery Leads to Prevention of Pancreatic Cancer in Young Mother
Siobhan Young of Warminster was undergoing pre-operative testing in preparation for a surgical weight loss procedure at Abington Memorial Hospital (AMH), when doctors coincidentally discovered a potentially life-threatening tumor in her pancreas. At 31, the first-time mother of a baby boy was terrified by thoughts of not being able to raise her child.
“Because our pre-op exams and testing for bariatric surgery are so extensive, we commonly find other medical issues patients don’t know about,” explains Gintas Antanavicius (Dr. G.), MD, bariatric surgeon, AMH. In Siobhan’s case, upon further testing, an ultrasound revealed a 3.5-centimeter lesion in her pancreas. Based on the tumor’s appearance, surgeons suspected it was noncancerous, but would have to biopsy it to make sure. Because nearly half of all pancreatic tumors have the potential to become cancerous over time, surgical removal is recommended.
Dr. G. consulted Christopher M. Pezzi, MD, director, Surgical Oncology, AMH. Fortunately, Siobhan was pursuing care at AMH, where surgeons have the expertise and experience to perform a wide range of complex, technically demanding procedures. The two surgeons agreed the priority in Siobhan’s case would be to surgically remove the tumor and send a sample to the lab for immediate study under the microscope. If the tumor was benign, Dr. G. would also perform the bariatric procedure during the same operation.
Siobhan, who had struggled with obesity lifelong, had begun exploring bariatric surgery as a means of weight loss a few months after her son, Joshua, was born. “Surgery was my last resort,” says Siobhan. “I had tried my entire life to lose weight and once Joshua was born, he became my reason to get healthier. I believe this little angel saved my life.”
Siobhan attended an information session at Abington Memorial Hospital’s Institute for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery then discussed her options in depth with Dr. G. Ultimately, she chose a procedure known as vertical sleeve gastrectomy (VSG), during which the surgeon divides the stomach vertically and removes 85 percent of it, thereby creating a smaller, banana-shaped stomach. Because the stomach is smaller, patients cannot eat as much food so they consume fewer calories and lose weight.
In April 2012, Siobhan and her husband, Matthew, placed their trust in the hands of two skilled surgeons, who were as eager as they to learn of the nature of her lesion. Drs. G. and Pezzi planned to perform the surgery laparoscopically, operating through a few small incisions in the abdomen using specialized instruments, rather than through one large, open incision. Traditionally, with open surgery, the spleen is also removed during a pancreatectomy because the organs share major blood vessels. By operating laparoscopically, however, surgeons have better visualization so that separating the pancreas from the spleen is easier.
Siobhan underwent laparoscopic partial pancreatectomy without removal of her spleen—an organ that plays a significant role in fighting infections. An immediate biopsy of the pancreatic tumor revealed it was a mucinous cystic neoplasm—a benign tumor with a significant potential to become malignant. Because there was no cancer present, Dr. G. was able to proceed with the VSG.
Since her operation more than a year ago, Siobhan has maintained a weight loss of 70 pounds. “Running after an active 2-year-old helps to keep me in shape,” she says, “but every day I struggle to do what I’m supposed to do to keep the weight off.” Siobhan remains confident that with the support of family and friends, and routine visits with Dr. G., she’ll be successful.
Siobhan thinks about her doctors every day. “If I hadn’t decided to go ahead with the VSG, they wouldn’t have discovered the pancreatic lesion when they did, and the outcome could have been very different,” she says. “How can I possibly thank these doctors who literally saved my life? The best I can do is to let them know I will live my life to its fullest.”
The Institute for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery at Abington Memorial Hospital offers free information sessions at a variety of locations throughout the year. For more information, visit our website at www.amh.org/bariatrics or call 215-441-6800.