When Rebekah Leigh, a mom of two from Wellesley, MA, started having stomach pains, her primary care doctor at Newton-Wellesley Hospital referred her to a gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy. While nervous, as an otherwise healthy 45-year-old, she hoped for the best.
Then the results came back. During the colonoscopy, the gastroenterologist had found a large sigmoid polyp - a growth that forms near the end of the colon. Given the large size of the polyp, the physician was unable to remove it endoscopically. The doctors also originally thought that there was a high chance that it could be cancerous. Although a biopsy showed no sign of cancer, it also could not definitively rule it out, so her doctors recommended she get the polyp removed quickly.
Following current guidelines, Rebekah’s gastroenterologist referred her for a standard colon resection. A colon resection, also called a bowel resection or colectomy, is a surgery in which all or part of the patient’s colon, also known as the bowel or large intestine, is removed.
Considering her options
“I thought there must be a better option out there. So, I got on Google and started looking for alternatives to colon resection. I happened across an article on the UCLA Medical Center website about CELS, which sounded like an interesting alternative but I needed to learn more and find something closer to Boston. So, I searched for doctors who do the procedure here in Boston and was surprised to find Dr. James Yoo at Tufts Medical Center,” she said.
Dr. Yoo became the Chief of Colon and Rectal Surgery at Tufts Medical Center three years ago. Before joining Tufts MC, he served as Chief of Colon and Rectal Surgery and Co-Director of the Colorectal Cancer Program at UCLA Medical Center.
While he was at UCLA, Dr. Yoo helped pioneer the hospital’s use of CELS, which stands for combined endoscopic-laparoscopic surgery.
“CELS is an alternative to a standard colon resection for patients who have benign-appearing polyps that cannot be removed via endoscopy,” said Dr. Yoo. “The CELS technique allows us to both internally and externally manipulate the colon to facilitate polyp removal without the need for a resection.”
After doing a bit more research, Rebekah called Dr. Yoo’s office and was immediately impressed by the accessibility of his team. “I spoke to Dr. Yoo’s administrative assistant, Lynn, on Thursday and she set me up for an appointment with him on Friday. During the appointment, Dr. Yoo helped me feel really positive about the procedure while still clearly outlining the risks. After we met and decided that CELS was the best approach for me, we scheduled the procedure for the following week.”
An alternative approach and a quick recovery
During the surgery, Dr. Yoo worked with Dr. Lilian Chen, another colorectal surgeon at Tufts, and together they were able to use the CELS approach to remove Rebekah’s polyp without the need for a resection. She sailed through the surgery with ease. Dr. Yoo said “we were thrilled to be able to remove her polyp by this CELS approach, and ever happier when we found out that the polyp was completely benign.”
Rebekah adds, “The whole team helped me feel comfortable and confident. I hadn’t been to Tufts MC before and was amazed that during such a stressful time the staff could be so accommodating, wonderful, nurturing and kind.”
One of the benefits of CELS over the standard resection is the shorter recovery time and length of stay required in the hospital. Rebekah was discharged the same day as her procedure, rather than needing to do the 3-5 day stay typically required with a resection. And, just one day after the surgery she was up and around the house with her kids, and was back to work within a week.
“My best advice to people who are in the same shoes as I was is: consider your alternatives. Think about your own body and what might work for you,” she said.