Robotic surgery gives Cartersville cancer survivor new lease, and perspective, on life
by Marie Nesmith
Nov 21, 2012 | 1764 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Esophageal cancer survivor Darrell Ritchie relaxes at his Cartersville home.
Esophageal cancer survivor Darrell Ritchie relaxes at his Cartersville home.
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With his cancer journey behind him, Darrell Ritchie will be counting his many blessings this Thanksgiving. Along with fellowshipping with family and partaking in his favorite holiday dishes on Thursday, the Cartersville 72-year-old will be reflecting upon his recovery from stage 4 esophageal cancer.

“I was diagnosed about seven months ago,” Ritchie said. “When it originally started, the first couple of two or three bites of food that I would take in the afternoon would kind of hurt a little bit [in my stomach]. So they went in and looked and that’s when they found out that I had cancer of the esophagus. I’d never been sick a day in my life — [the thought of] cancer was way out there.

“I really didn’t pay that much attention to [my risks before]. ... [Overall], I’m thankful for my family and my church and all the people who prayed for me. They all must stand in good with God because I went from [stage] 4 to cancer free. [The] people at [Woodstock Christian] Church, they were behind me all the way.”

After Ritchie’s cancer was detected, he underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments at The Hope Center in Cartersville before having a robotic esophagogastrectomy procedure Oct. 4 at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital.

“Esophageal cancer symptoms generally do not appear until the

disease has advanced, making survival harder for diagnosed patients. The robotic esophagogastrectomy procedure improves the chance of survival, by decreasing the morbidity of the operation for our patients,” said Dr. Saeid Khansarinia in a news release from Piedmont Atlanta Hospital. Khansarinia, a cardiothoracic surgeon, performed the robotic surgery with general surgeon Kevin McGill, M.D.

According to the release, the robotic surgery, which was the first procedure of its kind in Atlanta, “removed the lower part of Ritchie’s esophagus — the tube that moves food from the throat to the stomach — and the upper part of his stomach. ... After the lower part of the esophagus and the upper part of the stomach are removed during the procedure, the esophagus is reconnected to the remaining stomach.

“The robotic esophagogastrectomy allows the surgeon to do all this using small abdominal and chest incisions as opposed to multiple large abdominal and chest incisions made with the traditional surgical method. Other benefits of a robotic esophagogastrectomy can include lower risk of esophageal leaks, fewer complications, shorter and less painful recovery, less risk of infection and a faster return to everyday activities.”

Currently at home, trying to increase his energy level and weight, Ritchie said having the robotic surgery was an easy decision to reach.

“The doctor suggested it and it sounded OK to me,” Ritchie said. “So we went ahead with it and it turned out to be something very special. ... I put all my trust in my surgeon. Right off from the start, I just had all the confidence in the world in him.

“The reason I’m doing these interviews is because I want people out here to know not to give up, that right here in Cartersville, you have some of the best cancer people that there is around. You’ve got [oncologists and radiologists] — they took care of everything for me,” he said, specifically naming, Northwest Georgia Oncology Centers’ Dr. Madhuremi Uppalapati and North Georgia Radiation Therapy’s Dr. William Thoms.

Data from the American Cancer Society reveals about 17,460 people will be diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus this year, with men being three to four times more likely to contract the disease.