Robotic surgery rocks ... and so does Ruth

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Robotic surgery rocks ... and so does Ruth

Precise surgical procedure gives cancer survivor with multiple sclerosis reason to celebrate

One Sunday evening in November 2012, Ruth Schmidt and her son, Heath Schwartz, rocked out at the Aerosmith concert at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita. Ruth was thrilled to be there — Aerosmith is her second-favorite band. (“Hair band” Poison holds the No. 1 position.)

Heath was thrilled to be there, too — he was celebrating his mother being alive. She had recently beaten lung cancer. She attributes her survival to some unusual circumstances and a da Vinci® Robotic Surgical System that brought about, in her words, a miracle.

Ruth’s story starts well before November and her overcoming cancer, though. In 1985, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She was 35 years old, living in Muskogee, Okla., was married and Heath was 10 years old. She lived a life full of physical activity, including a lot of time dancing and winning dance contests.

As her disease progressed, she went through a divorce and eventually moved from Oklahoma to Wichita, where she lived with her son for a time. She now lives on her own, and manages her MS successfully by doing everything her doctor tells her to do.

“You have to have a positive attitude and I have had a positive attitude since I was diagnosed with MS,” says Ruth, showing her perpetual smile. “My glass is always half full, it’s never half empty. In fact, it’s usually full.”

A ‘miracle’ diagnosis

But while she does a good job managing her multiple sclerosis, on occasion there are issues that the MS complicates. Anything that might require surgery falls into that category — such as lung cancer.

Heath explains that because of Ruth’s multiple sclerosis, what might take a healthy person several weeks to heal — for example, a broken bone — would take several months for his mother to heal.

A cancer diagnosis, especially for someone with Ruth’s health problems, can be devastating. Of course, it was also unexpected.

“Everything was just a shock to me,” Ruth says. “I wasn’t even sure I was hearing them right. I knew it could be possible because I had smoked for a long time but had quit two years before.

“It’s a miracle they found the cancer. It was only a half-inch long.”

Heath says his mom’s surgeon, Brett Grizzell, MD, of Wichita Surgical Specialists, asked her if she believed she would live another year.

Her response sums up her attitude toward life: “One year?” she said. “I’m going to live for 10-plus years.”

Wedge removal

Ruth’s access to robot-assisted surgery and a surgeon who practiced in thoracic robotic surgery at the hospital on St. Francis — surgery that is performed in the chest cavity — may have saved her life. Robot-assisted thoracic surgery is an expansion of robot-assisted surgical services that are available at the hospitals on Harry, St. Francis and St. Teresa. Dr. Grizzell says a traditional surgery could have caused a number of additional problems given Ruth’s other health concerns.

She is healing well, albeit slowly because of her MS.

“I want to get back to where I can shower and do my laundry by myself again,” says Ruth.

She is not letting the healing process slow her down too much though. The week before the family’s Thanksgiving celebration, she made five cheesecakes with three of her grandsons.

“It’s just a miracle,” Ruth says about her surgery. It was so successful that she needed no other cancer treatments. No chemotherapy. No radiation.

She describes the operation as “taking a wedge out” of her lung. Just a small one. But it got all the cancer.

And that deserved a celebration. A good one. A loud one. So they celebrated with Aerosmith.

“To see my mom at the concert, with her head bobbing around, it was great,” says Heath. “My mom’s been through a lot of hardships, but she’s always had a positive outlook and that makes a huge difference.” 

 Q&A with Dr. Brett Grizzell

What are the benefits of robot-assisted surgery to the patients?

This method of surgery offers a less invasive approach with quicker recovery times while still achieving the same excellent surgical outcome. This correlates to getting patients back to their normal lifestyle, which reduces complications.

  As robot-assisted surgery becomes more widespread, how do you educate patients on this new approach?

We discuss all surgical approaches with patients, including robot-assisted surgery, knowing we will always try to start as minimally invasive as possible. We also make sure the patient knows and understands that we will ultimately choose the method of surgery that is best for the patient’s particular condition.

  What do you foresee is next on the horizon with this technology?

As industries that create surgical supplies catch up with this technology, we will be able to expand our use of the robot.


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