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Back-to-school special

Innovative procedure gets teacher into classroom on time
As summer vacation reached its twilight in years past, Darlene Bondley often would feel a tiny pang of sadness knowing another school year was rapidly approaching even though teaching is her passion.

This year, however, the reading specialist and assistant principal at Bismarck’s Centennial Elementary wanted to return to the classroom as quickly as possible.

A medical emergency in late July cast doubt over whether the 55-year-old would be able to return to work for the start of the 2011-12 school year, and the very real possibility of missing out on those crucial opening weeks left Bondley feeling unsettled.

“I wanted the opportunity to be there,” Bondley said. “You meet your students, and you set up your routines in those first weeks. I just didn’t want to miss it.”

She didn’t have to thanks in part to Sean Russell, MD, Sanford Health cardiothoracic surgeon, and the health system’s latest innovation— daVinci robotic-assisted surgery.

In late July, Bondley developed a kidney infection following a previous medical procedure, and she continued to experience pain. She underwent an abdominal CT scan to check for possible kidney stones, but the scan showed her kidneys were just fine.

  Darlene Bondley
Darlene Bondley underwent a CT scan of her abdomen to check for possible kidney stones and ended up finding out she had a mass on her lung.
Dr. Sean Russell
Sean Russell, MD
  The test revealed something completely unexpected, though—a mass on Bondley’s lower right lung, the existence of which was confirmed by a follow-up scan focused on her chest.

“I left the hospital that day crying,” Bondley said. “I wasn’t expecting it at all.”

Not knowing whether the mass was cancerous, Dr. Russell suggested robotic-assisted surgery to remove the mass rather than doing two procedures— one for a biopsy and one to remove the mass, which would need to come out regardless. Once Dr. Russell removed the mass, he’d have a pathologist determine if it was cancerous as soon as possible. If the mass was cancerous, Dr. Russell would turn to a more aggressive form of treatment.

Robotic-assisted surgery allows surgeons to access the well-protected organs in the chest cavity through tiny incisions in the cartilage between the ribs rather than breaking ribs to spread the rib cage. This minimally invasive method reduces pain, blood loss and recovery time, Dr. Russell said.

Sanford Health is the first health system in Bismarck-Mandan to offer this innovative technology and the first and only in the region to use it for lung procedures. The surgeon has control over the robotic system, which translates his or her hand movements into smaller, more precise movements of tiny instruments that enter the body through other minor incisions. The instruments mimic—and, at times, exceed—the complex movements of the human hand and wrist.

At first, Bondley was skeptical.

“In my mind when you think of robotic surgery, you think of them pushing a few buttons and having the robot do it and not the surgeon,” she said. “Dr. Russell seemed so confident, and he made me feel so much better because of his confidence. He assured me he’d still be performing the surgery.”

Still, not knowing if the mass was cancerous, Bondley made a long list of contingency plans.

She arranged for a long-term substitute teacher for her classroom, assuming she’d miss a minimum of the first two weeks of school. Her sister planned to visit to help out, and her husband took time off work.

On the morning of the surgery, she still had plenty of anxiety with the unknown she faced.

After successfully removing the mass using the robotic-assisted method, Dr. Russell visited Bondley in recovery to deliver the good news.

“He said: ‘Darlene, this is Dr. Russell. It’s benign,’” Bondley said. “I remember opening one eye, giving a thumbs up and him saying: ‘And, we got it all.’ I tried to give him a high five. It was such a relief for me to know it wasn’t cancer.”

Three days later, Bondley went home. Two weeks after that, she returned to work—not missing one day with her students. All the backup planning was unnecessary.

“It just meant everything. I love my job. I love teaching,” Bondley said. “The first day of school is kind of magic.”

Dr. Russell is happy he could help.

“It’s a good feeling for her and a good feeling for me, that’s for sure,” the surgeon said.

Bondley has continued with her rehabilitation, and she now can walk the 2.3-mile loop around Tom O’Leary Golf Course without stopping to catch her breath.

She’s pleased she chose Sanford Health and robotic-assisted surgery.

“I can’t say enough about Dr. Russell and his nurse and all the people at the hospital and the operating room,” Bondley said. “I prayed so hard and had others praying, too. It’s like the Lord had somebody in place each time I needed help or reassurance. It’s a miracle. To me, it is.”

Click here for more information on Sanford Health’s latest innovation—robotic-assisted surgery.


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