David Lewis searched all over the country to find a surgeon who would operate on him when he was diagnosed with a tumour in his chest that was precariously difficult to reach.
Four years ago David was diagnosed with parathyroid adenoma – a tumour of the parathyroid gland which causes very high calcium levels.
“It makes you feel absolutely terrible,” said David, 72. “Your body goes into meltdown. It causes osteoporosis, tiredness and brain fog as well as renal and gall stones. But if you can remove it, there’s no more side effects.”
Sounds simple, but David had previously had a bypass graft, and the tumour – which was the size of a golf ball – was sitting right next to the new blood vessels that had been placed to keep his heart going, which added a huge complication.
David and his family met with medical experts from right across the country but all deemed it too dangerous to operate via conventional surgery and an attempt at embolisation to destroy the tumour failed. But then the Heath Hospital in Cardiff referred him to Joel Dunning, a Cardiothoracic Surgeon at The James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.
Mr Dunning got a team of specialists together for a six-hour operation using the Trust’s Da Vinci Robot and a special dye which lights up blood vessels, more commonly used by the gynaecology team, to determine the exact location of the bypass graft.
“We knew he needed the operation, there was no other way,” said Mr Dunning. “We had the amazing vision and precision of the robot and the use of a special dye to see where the bypass graft was so we were confident we could safely carry out the procedure.
“We have done a lot of thymectomies and lung surgery with the robot and this combined the two techniques, plus I have been a heart surgeon as well.
“We brought a team together of multi-disciplinary specialists to fix a unique problem. That’s what’s so good about James Cook – all the different specialties are here under one roof!
“There was a big relief moment when we got the tumour out, and got the all clear from our pathology team to confirm we had got it all!
“It’s nice to design new operations that were not previously offered. We have got very good at doing novel things!”
The procedure involved a range of specialists including radiologist Richard Hartley, endocrine specialist Wael El-Saify, cardiac surgeon Simon Kendall, anaesthetist Robert Mitchell and the pathology and biochemistry team. Training was also provided by the gynaecology team on how to use the dye.
A week later David was discharged from hospital and he was soon heading back to his home in Wales.
“The only surgeon who was prepared to do it was Joel Dunning – he is a pioneer of surgery,” said David.
“I’m very happy with the level of care I received at James Cook – I had a first class service!
“I would also like to thank my wife Mary, sons Stephen and David and grandson Cian for their support throughout.”
A video of the procedure can be viewed here – please be aware that this contains some graphic surgical content!