Monday, September 19, 2011
Watch this week's video on YouTube (warning: contains graphic images of surgery)
Barbara Danbrook’s health story is a living testimonial to the expression, ‘adding insult to injury’. Over the past three years, she’s been diagnosed with two different types of cancer and lived through extended treatments and surgeries. Having survived all that, you would think it would be time to celebrate. But not so fast. What came next was unexpected, and crushing: a massive abdominal hernia, leading an appearance she describes as a “pregnancy which had slipped”. Not only did her physical condition make daily pleasures, like simple walking, nearly impossible, but the psychological stress of yet another health problem was heavy. “I couldn’t believe actually that after all the radiation and chemo and the two surgeries that I had to deal with something else.”
It’s a problem that’s becoming more pervasive, says Sunnybrook surgeon Dr. Fred Brenneman. More people are surviving cancer surgeries and traumas, which is wonderful. But both are also major hernia triggers. Hernias are weaknesses in the abdominal wall, and the bowel literally protrudes, often causing discomfort, fatigue and seriously hampering activities of daily living.
Hernias are often repaired using a synthetic mesh made of plastic-like material, to help contain and tuck in the bowel. But infections can happen, especially when bowel surgery is also required. That’s where a new biologic mesh, cell-free and made of human or pig skin, is much better for patients, says Dr. Brenneman. Fewer infections mean fewer surgeries for patients, and less time in the hospital. You can click on my video to see it being surgically implanted into a patient.
The trick with the biologic mesh is the cost, which is about five times more expensive that the synthetic version. Dr. Brenneman says, it’s a clear example of funding not keeping pace with innovation. Plus, he says when you factor in the cost of reduced surgeries and hospital stays, the economics equal out. Part of Sunnybrook’s role is raising awareness about this biologic mesh, and hopefully securing future funding for the growing number of patients who could benefit. In the meantime, Dr. Brenneman says, every donation counts. Click here to learn more about the mesh, and an upcoming fundraising event in October 2011.
Thankfully, Barbara’s health story may just have a happy ending yet. After her synthetic mesh developed complications, Dr. Brenneman replaced it with the biologic mesh. The difference was instant, and to date, lasting. “As far as the biologic mesh, I would say to people, do it. You’ll be so much more comfortable and you’ll feel so much better about yourself.” She hopes her story will help educate others facing a similar situation, to not settle for suffering.