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Jeanne Vignola's Story: On a mission to save colons

09/06/2016

Jeanne Vignola is the type of person who seems to flourish when presented with a new challenge or adventure. After working for years as a log home dealer, she switched careers in 1987 to become a dog groomer and owner at Four on the Floor Pet Washing and Grooming in Hudson, NH.

After turning 65 earlier this year, Jeanne made an appointment for a routine colonoscopy. During the scope, the gastroenterologist found a large colon polyp and two smaller polyps.  He was able to remove the two small polyps but recommended a colectomy (also called a colon resection) to remove the large benign polyp. A colectomy is an invasive surgery to remove all or part of the colon. 

“I just remember thinking, there has to be a better way. I was feeling great and didn’t want this to change,” Jeanne said. “Losing a foot of my colon and changing my life drastically was frightening.”

Doing her research on alternatives to colectomy

So, Jeanne went online and began searching for alternatives to colectomy. She stumbled upon a website that highlighted an innovative surgery called CELS (combined endoscopic and laparoscopic surgery). CELS is an alternative to colectomy for patients who have been diagnosed with a benign-appearing polyp that cannot be removed during an endoscopy. The technique involves combining laparoscopic surgery with a simultaneous colonoscopy, an approach that can increase the chances of polyp removal without the need for a bowel resection. 

Jeanne also learned that CELS has a number of benefits compared to the standard resection: a shorter hospital stay, shorter recovery time, lower rate of complications, and lower medical costs than a resection.

She searched for hospitals that perform the procedure in New England and found the CELS page on the Tufts Medical Center website. She called for an appointment and spoke to Lynn Fitzgerald, Assistant to the Division of Colon and Rectal Surgery. “I was feeling frightened and was determined to find an alternative, less invasive surgery,” said Jeanne. “Lynn was professional and extremely warm, but most importantly, she gave me hope. She expedited all the tests and labs and got me an appointment right away.

After meeting with Drs. James Yoo and Lilian Chen, Jeanne determined that, “Tufts MC is the best place, and this is the best option possible for my condition. I wasn’t told that I had an option before, but I’m so glad I did my research and found them.”

The surgery, which was preformed by Drs. Yoo and Chen, was successful and Jeanne was discharged the following day. “The recovery was instant,” she said. “I was walking around the next day and was able to get home quickly. This was huge for me because as a dog groomer, I would’ve missed months of work if I couldn’t lift heavy weights for a while - which would have been the case if I had had a resection.”  

On a mission to save colons

After Jeanne’s experience at Tufts MC, she is eager to spread the word about the surgery and the doctors that changed her life.

“I feel like I won the medical lottery,” said Jeanne. “Dr. Yoo and Dr. Chen are my heroes and they’re good people too – they are compassionate and gave me hope while still explaining the risks. Dr. Chen didn’t get to say goodbye to me when I was discharged, so she called my house the next day to say how happy she was that I got to keep my colon. How many surgeons take the time to do that?”

 “I felt strongly that I was in the best hands possible with the colorectal team at Tufts MC,” she continued. “Their knowledge, determination and steady hands changed my life. Their thoughtfulness and kindness was just a bonus. I will be forever grateful to them for saving my colon, which I will never take for granted.”

Jeanne plans to be an advocate for the CELS surgery and for the care that she received at Tufts Medical Center. She added, “It has changed my life. I can’t wait to spread the word about this procedure. I’m on a mission to save colons!”