When Boston resident Jill Hadad Hawkins began planning her perfect wedding, she envisioned a beachside ceremony, great food and music and dancing the night away with her new husband, family and friends. The last place she expected to spend her wedding night was in the Tufts Medical Center OR, undergoing emergency surgery for a potentially life-threatening condition.
Hawkins had a long history of gastrointestinal problems (including an ulcerative colitis diagnosis and three previous surgeries), but had been symptom-free for more than eight years leading up to her September 19, 2015 wedding in Wellfleet, MA. She takes great pride in taking good care of herself—eating well, getting the recommended amount of sleep and working out five days a week—but on the morning of her wedding day, Hawkins woke up with severe abdominal pain.
“At first I dismissed the discomfort as typical wedding day jitters,” said Hawkins. “But I continued to feel worse as the day went on—I was throwing up and I couldn’t stand up straight while getting ready. My stomach was becoming more and more distended.”
Powering Through the Pain
Somehow, Hawkins managed to make it through the wedding ceremony—which was sped up to accommodate her—and a few photos on the beach. She had hoped to experience the first dance with her new husband, but the pain became unbearable; before the reception began, Hawkins was taken away in an ambulance to Cape Cod Hospital, where she was diagnosed with a bowel obstruction—an intestinal blockage potentially fatal without highly-skilled surgical intervention, only found at an academic medical center.
“I knew then I had to go to Tufts Medical Center,” said Hawkins. “I had received much of my previous GI care there in the past and my doctors who I knew and trusted were there.”
The Right Man for the Job
Luckily, Chief of Colorectal Surgery James Yoo, MD, was on call that night. When Hawkins’ ambulance arrived at Tufts MC, Dr. Yoo knew immediately that they were in a race against the clock.
“She had a completely twisted segment of intestine that had cut off the blood supply and was in imminent danger of perforating,” said Dr. Yoo. “If that had happened, she could have died, or would have been very sick for a long time, in a best-case scenario.”
In a complicated procedure, made more difficult by her previous surgeries, Dr. Yoo untwisted Hawkins’s small intestine and removed a piece of it.
“It’s amazing that she was able to get through the wedding ceremony, given the severity of her condition,” said Dr. Yoo. “It is uncommon to see bowel obstructions progress to this degree.”
“Dr. Yoo has been absolutely amazing through my surgery, recovery and followup appointments,” said Hawkins. “His skill and compassion justify my decision to receive my care at Tufts Medical Center.”
Feeling Good & Giving Back
While doctors were never able to determine what caused the bowel obstruction or why it happened when it did, today Hawkins is fully recovered and feeling good. She celebrated her 30th birthday on New Year’s Day and she and her husband honeymooned in Italy at the end of May.
“This experience will only make me stronger,” said Hawkins. “I want to be a patient advocate for people living with inflammatory bowel diseases, which affect millions of people worldwide, but doesn’t get nearly the amount of attention as other illnesses. I think I can really help people. And I sure do have a great story to tell!”