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A Far Journey Rewarded

  • November 18, 2010
  • Number of views: 4391

Ask Shirley Werk about her hobbies, and she will say, “I have four kids and 14 grandkids!” She will also speak proudly of her grandson pursuing a professional baseball career, granddaughter serving as a social worker in Cambodia and another granddaughter teaching children how to swim in Japan. The Werks are a big family and do not let the many miles separating them interfere with staying close. With so much time and energy gladly spent on family, Shirley had little time to slow down for herself. Then an annual physical brought her busy life to an abrupt halt.

"You Have a Tumor"

Shirley, feeling fit and fine, thought little of the chest x-ray that her doctor ordered as part of his routine tests. But while looking at Shirley’s lungs, he noticed something on her kidney.

“He told me that I had a tumor,” Shirley says. Shirley’s urologist in Newport Beach, California, recommended removing her kidney as soon as he could gather his surgical team together. 

“It was going to take him three weeks,” Shirley said. “That was just too much time for me to live with so much uncertainty—and I had been planning to visit my daughter in St. Louis.”

When one of Shirley’s two daughters asked if Shirley could still make the trip, the urologist gave them outstanding news.

“He said that St. Louis is a great medical town,” Shirley says, “And he recommended that I see Dr. Sam Bhayani at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.”

“This is Our Guy”

Shirley and her husband Doug were impressed to learn that Dr. Bhayani, a Washington University urologic surgeon, has a surgical team on call at all times. They could hardly contain their excitement after Dr. Bhayani reviewed Shirley’s x-rays and shared his recommendation.

“Shirley appeared to be an excellent candidate for small incision surgery using the daVinci robot,” Dr. Bhayani says. “This would make her recovery quicker—and, most importantly, we would not have to remove her entire kidney.”

Unrestricted gifts from donors to the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation enabled the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Department of Surgery to purchase the daVinci Surgical System in 2007. This robot permits surgeons to perform complicated prostate, bladder, gynecological, or kidney surgery without large, painful incisions that pose greater risk to the patient.

“Dr. Bhayani took us step-by-step through all of our options,” Shirley says. “When he told us how many of these robotic procedures he does in a year, Doug said, ‘This is our guy!’”

National Leaders in Kidney Surgery Innovation

Urologic surgeons at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine have performed robotic kidney surgery on patients from over a third of the United States. Dr. Bhayani has performed it in South America, Asia, Europe and Australia.

“We were not the first to use the robot for kidney surgery, but we perfected a robotic method that has become the most popular technique in the United States to treat cancer while saving the kidney,” Dr. Bhayani says.

Surgeons from around the world routinely travel to Barnes-Jewish to learn the procedure developed here, quickly leading it to become a new standard of care for the treatment of kidney cancer. To date, Dr. Bhayani has trained more than 1,000 surgeons on our procedure. “Barnes-Jewish Hospital has the most experience with robotic kidney surgery in the world,” he says.

“Only Three Little Scars”

The tumor that Dr. Bhayani removed from Shirley was malignant, but she kept her kidney and is cancer free. Amazingly, she was in the hospital for only two days after surgery.

“I only have three little scars to show for my adventure, and my pain during recovery was not bad at all,” Shirley says. “I felt great almost immediately, and was able to get back to my regular life right away. My daughters even got me to the mall right after I was released fromthe hospital.”

Turning Cancer into a Speed Bump

Dr. Bhayani stresses that not every kidney cancer can be treated with robotic surgery and a tiny incision. Most candidates have early stage tumors less than three to four inches in length. His goal is to find every cancer that can be treated with the robot to save the kidney.

“If a patient loses a kidney or the blood flow is cut from the kidney for a long period of time—which must be done during conventional surgery—the patient will have a more painful and longer recovery, and may face dialysis down the road,” Dr. Bhayani says. “The robot allows me to perform the surgery quickly and efficiently so that blood loss is minimized, and I only need to cut out the tumor itself.”

Adds Dr. Bhayani, “We want cancer surgery to go from being a huge ordeal to being a speed bump in the road. The small incision procedure we have developed here has helped to make that a reality for kidney cancer when discovered early enough.”

Living Proof that Gifts Matter

Dr. Bhayani admires Shirley Werk. “Mrs. Werk was one of the first people to be treated with our robotic procedure,” he says. “When I think about her courage…that she got on a plane and travelled a great distance for her health…I hope that she feels it was one of the best decisions she has made.”

Shirley says that the entire experience made her realize the importance of a yearly physical. She also says that there is no peace like that of finding a doctor and a team you can trust.

“I knew that I could put my life in Dr. Bhayani’s hands and have faith in what he would do. Barnes-Jewish Hospital is blessed to have such fine doctors who specialize in robotic care, and I thank the people who give to Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation to help retain them. I am living proof of the benefit of your gifts!”

To support new and urgent funding areas like the daVinci Surgical System, please give to the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation's Leadership Fund (#7300) by clicking on "Give Now" above. If you have questions, please call David Sandler at 314-362-3499 or e-mail [email protected].

Surgeons at Barnes-Jewish Hospital performed their 1,000th robotic surgery case last year. See a video of how the daVinci (which was used during Shirely Werk’s surgery) is used by visiting: www.GivingBarnesJewish.org/DaVinci

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