Larry’s Robotic Surgery: Life-Saving for Him, Milestone for TriHealth
When Larry Dulli underwent a complex surgery in February at TriHealth’s Good Samaritan Hospital, there was only one goal in mind for the experts at the TriHealth Cancer Institute – Larry’s full and cancer-free recovery. It just so happened that Larry was the 15,000th patient to undergo robotic-assisted surgery at TriHealth: a significant milestone for a health care system that performs more robotic-assisted surgeries than any system in Ohio. TriHealth’s standing as an internationally recognized leader in robotic technology can be a comfort to patients like Larry, but in this case he wasn’t thinking about his role in a milestone achievement. He was focused on his own fight.
“I told my wife, ‘I survived a six-bypass heart surgery,” Larry recalls. “I’m not going to let this one kick me.”
Multidisciplinary Approach to Cancer
Larry’s fight began in September 2017, when he first noticed difficulty swallowing certain foods. Working with Andrew Chun, MD, a GI doctor in the TriHealth Digestive Institute, he underwent a series of tests that confirmed the diagnosis. Larry had esophageal cancer. Fortunately, the cancer was caught early and contained to the esophagus. Still, it would take an aggressive approach for Larry to beat this cancer and so he was referred to the TriHealth Cancer Institute.
“Delivering a diagnosis of cancer is one of the hardest things to do,” says Erik Dunki-Jacobs, MD with the TriHealth Cancer Institute, the surgical oncologist who would eventually perform Larry’s surgery. “There’s no easy way to deliver that news. Immediately there are going to be questions. One of the most important things a clinician can do is direct that patient to a specialist who can answer those questions.”
Larry consulted with a team of experts through the GI Multidisciplinary Clinic at the TriHealth Cancer Institute, including Dr. Dunki-Jacobs, Medical Oncologist David Draper, MD and Radiation Oncologist Corey Hobbs, MD. He and his wife Lisa also met with a dietitian at TriHealth to prepare him for the necessary adjustments to his diet before, during and after treatment.
“Our multi-disciplinary specialists work with a patient to lay out the best plan for their care,” says Dr. Dunki-Jacobs. “In Larry’s case, we weren’t just trying to control his cancer. Our plan was to cure it.”
Larry’s treatment included six weeks of radiation therapy, five days per week, and chemotherapy each Friday.
“Lisa called it Sushi Friday because they served sushi in the café at Good Sam every Friday,” Larry jokes about their weekly visits to Good Samaritan Hospital.
After significantly shrinking the cancer in Larry’s esophagus, he was ready to have it removed completely. This would be done through a surgery called an esophagectomy, which involves removing the bottom half of his esophagus and the top half of his stomach and then reconnecting the two ends. TriHealth’s investment in state-of-the-art robotic technology would allow a minimally-invasive procedure.
Benefits of Robotic-Assisted Surgery
TriHealth surgeons use robotic technology to perform complex procedures, many of which would normally require a large open incision. According to Dr. Dunki-Jacobs, robotic surgery allows the surgeon to perform minimally invasive surgery with an improved level of sophistication and precision. “Any surgical treatment of esophageal cancer is going to involve a very difficult recovery, but the recoveries that we have witnessed in our minimally-invasive surgery patients have been remarkable.”
“The internal pain doesn’t change much with robotic surgery,” he says. “We’re still doing the same thing inside. But what is most difficult for many people is the incisional pain and this option greatly reduces that. There would traditionally be a large scar from the breast bone to the naval, and if done through the chest, there would be incisions between the ribs. Now we are doing this surgery with small incisions in the belly and no incisions in the chest.”
Dr. Dunki-Jacobs says robotic surgery also greatly reduces the risk of wound infection that can be associated with larger incisions, as well as the risk of pneumonia, which can occur if patients are not able to take deep breaths after surgery due to pain.
Larry’s Road to Recovery
Larry spent 10 days at Good Samaritan Hospital following his procedure. Even with the benefit of robotic-assisted surgery, he still had a tough recovery ahead of him. He spent seven days being fed only through a tube before transitioning into a temporary liquid-only diet.
Diet is very important to the successful treatment of cancer. Proper nutrition is important to maintaining strength during radiation and chemotherapy and following surgery. Lucky for Larry, he had his wife Lisa with him every step of the way, affectionately referring to her as his “drill sergeant.”
“She drove me to make sure I ate three meals a day and that I got up regularly to walk and do the things I need to do,” he says. “I couldn’t have done it without her. I lost more than 20 pounds during chemotherapy but I was able to gain most of that back before surgery.”
Lisa used tools provided by his treatment team to track Larry’s food intake. She tracked what he ate, the amount of calories that he took in each day. She was even able to break it down to how much protein and carbohydrates that he consumed. The couple had other help, though, through support and prayers from family and friends, including their four grown children and four young grandchildren. Even the auto dealership where Larry has worked for more than 20 years has helped by allowing him to adjust his schedule during treatment and providing him with a medical recliner to sleep in at home following surgery.
Cancer-Free and Going Strong
Larry is cancer-free following his surgery and requires no further treatment other than regular follow-ups. Under Lisa’s watchful eye he continues to get regular exercise through walks and playing with his grandchildren. He also pays close attention to his diet. He knows he is lucky that his cancer was found early.
“I tell people, ‘If something doesn’t feel right, pay attention,” he says.
He also credits the team approach of the physicians and staff of the TriHealth Cancer Institute that ultimately helped to develop the best plan for his care and recovery.
“When I first heard I had cancer, we considered going someplace else for treatment. Even someplace far away if necessary,” he says. “Once we met the team at TriHealth there was no doubt in my mind that they would provide me the best care. I never looked back. We couldn’t have asked for more compassion during the process.”
Last Updated: April 20, 2018