Uncommon surgery puts man’s life back on fast track

November 15, 2016 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Heroes

Michael DiGangi’s life has two speeds – fast and stop.

“I’m a non-stop guy, it runs in the family,” says DiGangi, a 64-year-old resident of Addison.

So, when a routine visit to the doctor during the summer of 2016 eventually led to a diagnosis of cancer in his left kidney, he didn’t stop. He didn’t even pause. He plowed straight ahead to tackle the disease.

“As soon as you hear cancer, it sure scares the hell out of you,” says DiGangi.

He contacted his sister and brother-in-law, who both work in healthcare, for information and advice. They suggested he meet with and get a second opinion from Gordon (Jay) Kinzler, MD, a urologist with Elmhurst Hospital.

An MRI ordered by Dr. Kinzler not only confirmed the cancer in DiGangi’s left kidney, but resulted in another jolt of bad news – there was also cancer in DiGangi’s right kidney that was undetected in previous testing done at his original healthcare facility.

“Usually in a case like this, we take out part of one kidney and then, two or three months later, remove the cancerous section of the other kidney,” says Dr. Kinzler. “But, he said, ‘Doc, I have to get back to work (as an automotive technology instructor at Triton College in River Grove).’”

In addition to accommodating DiGangi’s desire to quickly return to his job, Dr. Kinzler thought a single surgery to treat both kidneys would be advantageous for other reasons as well.

“I gave him the option of doing both kidney tumor removals at one operation because I knew it would save him recovery time and potential side effects,” says Dr. Kinzler. “And, there are always risks with major surgery, which would potentially double with two surgeries.

“It’s hard to remove part of both kidneys during the same laparoscopic operation. Both renal arteries are temporarily cross clamped and there is a possibility that if both kidneys do not recover immediately he would need dialysis for a time after the surgery. I said, ‘I'll start by doing the left side, and if everything goes smooth and I think it’s safe, we'll proceed and do the right side.’”

On July 11 at Elmhurst Hospital, Dr. Kinzler performed what he believes was a first for a community hospital in Chicago’s western suburbs – single-setting bilateral hand-assisted laparoscopic partial nephrectomies with bilateral renal artery cross clamping.

In layperson’s terms, he removed the cancerous portions from both of DiGangi’s kidneys during one procedure, using a hand-assisted laparoscopic, minimally invasive form of surgery in which several small ports are made in the abdomen. This is an alternative to traditional “open” surgery, which uses a larger, single incision.

A special camera and instruments are used to perform the surgery and are passed through the ports. The surgeon is able to view high-resolution video on monitors in the operating room while the procedure is performed.

The “hand-assisted” element comes in via an additional incision that allows the surgeon to insert a hand to aid in the more complex maneuvers required to perform the procedure.

In total, it took Dr. Kinzler about eight hours to remove about a fourth of DiGangi’s left kidney and a smaller section of his right kidney.

Afterward, Dr. Kinzler confirmed the cancer from either kidney had not spread, the margins of both kidneys were free of tumor and that DiGangi’s kidneys were functioning normally. He was home a few days later.

After a brief recovery period, DiGangi didn’t waste any time. He shifted back to the speed he prefers – fast.

“I let it roll off my shoulder and just keep on going. I feel like I have a lot of years left.”

Learn more about surgical services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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