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About two years ago, Antonia Figueroa, 87, of Bensenville, began having pain in her stomach.
Although she lives with her 90-year-old husband Heron, son Leonel and daughter-in-law Columbia, Figueroa kept the pain hidden from her family for a long time.
But by early May 2016, Figueroa was in so much pain she had stopped eating. Columbia took her to an Immediate Care clinic in Addison. When Figueroa arrived at the clinic, she was very jaundiced and was told she needed to go to the ER. Figueroa then went to Elmhurst Hospital, where she received pain medication.
The following week, the pain returned and Figueroa was back in the ER again. This time, Rameez Alasadi, M.D. placed a biliary stent into her bile duct to relieve the biliary acid that had built up in her body, and she stayed overnight.
On May 19, 2016, Figueroa went back to Elmhurst Hospital for a second stent to replace the first. This was when an abdominal CT scan revealed ampullary adenocarcinoma, a rare gastrointestinal tumor that develops where the bile and pancreatic ducts meet and empty into the small intestine.
At this point, Mohd Raashid Sheikh, M.D., a board certified surgeon who specializes in hepatobiliary, pancreatic and upper gastrointestinal surgery at Edward-Elmhurst Health, entered the picture.
Figueroa was in so much pain, she remembers telling Dr. Sheikh, “I’m putting myself in your hands. Please cut me open and take it out.”
Dr. Sheikh had reservations about performing surgery because of Figueroa’s age. However Figueroa, who Columbia says has always had a strong will, insisted on it. She said she couldn’t live with the pain any more.
Fortunately, Dr. Sheikh has had extensive training in using robotics and specializes in minimally invasive approaches for complex abdominal surgeries. So on May 27, 2016, Figueroa had the Whipple procedure with the da Vinci Surgical System—one of the most advanced surgical technologies available.
Dr. Sheikh used robotic instruments and a tiny high-definition 3D camera to see inside Figueroa’s abdomen, access her difficult-to-reach tumor, and remove it.
The surgery was a success. “I am very happy that the surgery went well. Dr. Sheikh is a very good doctor. I am very grateful to him, and I believe God guided him through the surgery,” Figueroa said.
Figueroa stayed in the hospital for 10 days, followed by two more weeks of recovery in a nursing home just a few blocks from her home in Bensenville. Columbia said the team at Elmhurst, including a social worker, made all the arrangements for them.
On July 2, 2016, Figueroa returned home. “I am thankful because I was well cared for. All the doctors and nurses at Elmhurst Hospital know what they’re doing. They were very knowledgeable and capable. I was treated very well by everyone,” Figueroa said.
Figueroa has a follow up appointment in October with Amaryllis Gil, M.D., associate medical director at Elmhurst Hospital and oncologist with Elmhurst Hematology Oncology Department.
Columbia attributes her mother-in-law’s ability to get through surgery at her age to the doctors at Elmhurst and to Figueroa’s strong spirit.
“She is a very strong woman. She’s been healthy all her life. You would never see her napping through the day. She is always on the go, never slows down,” says Columba.
Now that she is pain-free, Figueroa is enjoying time with her family. Figueroa and Heron have four children (three boys and a girl), 15 grandchildren and “many more” great-grandchildren, all who live nearby in Illinois.
Originally from a small village near Taxco, in the Mexican state of Guerrero, Figueroa and her husband hope to travel back to Mexico for a visit in the next few months.
When asked how she feels today, Figueroa said, “I feel very good. I have no pain.”
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