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Janice White poses with her husband, Frank, and granddaughter Annabelle Miller, 6.
Janice White is living a normal life for the first time in more than 20 years.
By normal, we mean eating what and when she wants without pain, and being able to go to the bathroom.
“I’m having normal bowel movements for the first time in 20 years,” White says. “I feel like a different person. It’s been such a dramatic change in my lifestyle. I don’t have to worry about not being able to go to the bathroom — or can I eat this? Can I eat that?”
Before September of 2017, White’s experience was something of a horror story: This is what happens when you can’t go.
Her colon had been a sensitive nuisance for years, she says, bothering her since the 1990s until 2015, when it became a major source of pain.
She would eat, but wouldn’t be able to go and would be “backed up” for days. In 2017, the struggle got harder. She cut back on food. Her legs and ankles swelled.
“We tried different things to get things moving. After a couple weeks I was back where I started,” White says. “When you get to be my age, 67, you get hard-headed and think you can just deal with it.”
In August 2017, she experienced a bout of serious pain along with the other symptoms.
“Cramps, the bloating was off the charts,” White says. “I started throwing up. It was really bad. I couldn’t even keep water down.”
She went to the emergency room, but was sent home. The next day she went to the emergency room at Edward Hospital in Naperville and was diagnosed with diverticulitis.
Surgery – and colostomy
White was admitted to the hospital and put on pain medicine and antibiotics. After a few days, it became clear that the medicine wasn’t working. That’s when White met with surgeon V. Karlos Arcos, M.D.
“I was sitting in a chair — I couldn’t lay down, couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep,” White says. “Dr. Arcos said, ‘Are you ready for surgery?’ I said yes, anything you can do. I can’t do this anymore. About two hours later I was in surgery.”
“She looked pretty sick. Her colon had perforated from the diverticulitis,” Dr. Arcos says. “Fortunately it hadn’t contaminated the entire abdomen.”
She came out of the September 2017 surgery with a colostomy bag.
“My recovery from that was long. Going into the surgery, I was already a weak without anything to eat, my legs and feet were puffed up like balloons,” White says. “I can’t even explain the misery.”
Determined to not only recover but lose the colostomy bag, White started exercising and eating healthy as soon as she could. To say White was ready for the reversal surgery would be an understatement.
“I’m eating well, I’m pooping well, I just want this bag off. When you wear a colostomy bag, you don’t feel like yourself,” White says. “Dr. Arcos said, ‘Let’s do it.’” By February 2018, she was ready for her colostomy reversal.
Generally, you must wait 3 to 6 months after colostomy creation before it can be reversed, Dr. Arcos says. It’s important for colostomy patients to remember that it takes time to recover from the initial illness and surgery to get to a point where reversal surgery can be performed. Colostomies for diverticulitis are the most likely to be reversed. In some cases, such as for certain rectal cancers, the colostomy is permanent.
“Colostomy reversal is another major surgery, and the recovery after the reversal is tough,” Dr. Arcos says. “Keep hope, keep good spirits. Even if it takes six months, nine months or a year, there‘s a light at the end of that tunnel.”
White’s colostomy reversal procedure was performed using the daVinci robotic surgical system for a minimally invasive approach. Even so, the case lasted longer than usual, about 9 hours, as scar tissue had built up from her first surgery. The daVinci robot technology allowed for a precision dissection of the scar tissue, and in the end, allowed for the incision size to be kept to a much smaller size than with traditional open surgery.
While it was challenging to get up out of bed the next morning as she was rather sore from the surgery, White was ecstatic — the colostomy bag was gone.
“I hugged Dr. Arcos, I was crying. He saved me so much pain. Of all the doctors in the world, I got the best.
“Every time I have a bowel movement I say, ‘Thank you Dr. Arcos!’”
Dr. V. Karlos Arcos is a surgeon who specializes in colorectal surgery with Edward Medical Group. Read his profile and schedule an appointment online.
Learn more about robotic and minimally invasive surgery at Edward-Elmhurst Health.
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