Mary Drake Young was experiencing severe pain in her abdomen when her primary care physician sent her for an MRI.
The MRI revealed a tumor on her distal pancreas and her gastroenterologist referred her to Dr. Jason Maggi, a surgical oncologist at Jersey City Medical Center, an RWJBarnabas Health facility.
“I wasn’t expecting them to say they found a tumor,” said Young, 47, who has been a special education teacher in East Orange since 2001. “I Googled it and the first thing that popped up was pancreatic cancer. Obviously, I was totally distraught and worried about my children, my grandchildren, and my husband because I’m young. I’m not ready to die.”
Young said Dr. Maggi immediately put her at ease.
“He was very down to earth and explained my condition in layman’s terms for me,” Young said. “Dr. Maggi even drew these funny little diagrams to try to explain what the tumor was, what it looks like, where is located. So it helped ease my mind a little bit. But of course, I was still panicking and scared.”
Dr. Maggi said Young was lucky because the tumor was discovered early before it had a chance to metastasize (spread) to other organs.
“Often times we find pancreatic cancer too late and we can’t do surgery, or the patient will develop metastatic diseases later in life,” Dr. Maggi said.
The pancreas is located in the upper left abdomen just behind the stomach. It plays a role in digesting food into usable fuel and regulates blood sugar. The pancreas has three parts, the head, body and tail. Young’s tumor was located on the tail, or the distal section of the pancreas.
Dr. Maggi said the tumor could be removed with a surgical procedure known as a distal pancreatectomy. Typically, the procedure is done by opening the abdomen.
But Dr. Maggi had some good news for his patient. He told her that he could do the procedure laparoscopically, a minimally invasive technique that only requires a few small incisions. The benefit of laparoscopic surgery is less blood loss, operative time, pain, and length of hospital stay, Dr. Maggi said.
Young’s surgery was the first time a laparoscopic distal pancreatectomy had been performed at Jersey City Medical Center. Dr. Maggi was trained in the procedure during his fellowship in complex general surgical oncology at the University of Pittsburg Medical Center.
Young said she was relieved when Dr. Maggi told her the surgery could be done laparoscopically.
“I was relieved when my recovery went really quickly,” Young said, who had the surgery Oct. 22. “I was happy about the situation.”
Dr. Maggi, who was born in Hudson County, said he is proud the hospital where he works is now able to offer minimally invasive laparoscopic distal pancreatectomy.
“Our goal is to offer the latest technology and surgical procedures at Jersey City Medical Center so that our patients can live long and healthy lives after diagnosis,” Dr. Maggi said.