Robotic assistance takes most of the pain out of removing rare tumor

Neil Schoenherr and his family

Sometimes your day just doesn’t go as planned, just ask Neil Schoenherr.

Neil was at Barnes-Jewish Hospital being prepared for an outpatient medical procedure. He recalls, “I had already been given the relaxation medication and was literally on my way into the operating room. The doctor came out and told me there was a mass on my CT scan, he didn’t know exactly what it was yet, but they couldn’t go through with the scheduled procedure today.”

For almost an hour, Neil and his wife waited while his doctor consulted with radiology. “We were sure it was cancer. All I could think about was our kids. My wife was a wreck.”  It turned out that Neil had a large tumor on his esophagus, at the base of his stomach – an esophageal leiomyoma. Fortunately all signs pointed to it being benign, but further testing would be needed. Neil left the hospital that morning, knowing he would be back for an MRI, biopsy, and eventually to have the mass removed.

“I was going under the assumption that this was just a leiomyoma and everything was going to be OK after it was removed. But there is always that little doubt in the back of your mind and maybe it is cancer. It was amazing to get the phone call confirming the tumor was benign.”

Neil was referred to Washington University thoracic surgeon, Benjamin Kozower, MD, MPH, to have the tumor removed. Dr. Kozower explains, “Esophageal leiomyoma is a very rare condition. While oftentimes the first symptom people might have is trouble swallowing or some discomfort in their upper abdomen, Neil had no symptoms. If it hadn’t been for his other scheduled procedure, Neil’s tumor would have continued to grow undetected.”

According to Neil, “During my first office visit, Dr. Kozower was phenomenal. He was very honest, took all the time in the world with me and answered all my questions. He told me my tumor was large – almost three inches. He said that traditionally this type of surgery, called a thoracotomy, would need a long incision to open my chest wall, dividing back muscles and spreading the ribs. Recovery would be painful and could take four to six weeks. But, he said, there was another option.” 

Benjamin Kowozer, MD, performing robotic-assisted surgery
Dr. Kozower performing robotic-assisted surgery

Because Neil had not had any previous thoracic surgery which could cause adhesions and scar tissue, Dr.  Kozower determined that Neil would be a good candidate for the robotic-assisted leiomyoma resection/enucleation (defined as removal of a mass without cutting into or dissecting it). Dr. Kozower has performed almost 100 esophageal surgeries using robotic assistance, but this would be his first robotic-assisted leiomyoma resection/enucleation.

Dr. Kozower explained, “The robotic platform makes it possible to do the surgery using the minimally invasive technique. The platform allows me to make precise movements using a 3D display with 10X magnification. Neil’s hospital stay would be as little as two days and recovery would be approximately two weeks.” 

The robotic-assisted surgery was a complete success. Neil said, “I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. Dr. Kozower and his skilled team were able to remove the entire tumor. I ended up with  tiny scars, two nights in the hospital, one week at home and went back to work the next week.

By the time I left the hospital, I was feeling pretty good and didn’t need prescription pain medication. I had no complications –it was the best of all worlds. I highly recommend Dr. Kozower and his thoracic team.”

For more information or to make an appointment with Dr. Kozower or any member of his cardiothoracic team, please call 314-362-8089.

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