Dr Tomoaki Kato had to remove a lot more than a cancerous tumor during an unprecedented operation on a 63-year-old Florida woman earlier this month.
To get to the tumor, which was buried deep in Brooke Zepp’s abdomen and threatened to kill her within months, the organ transplant specialist said he first had to remove her stomach, pancreas, spleen, liver and small and large intestines.
The organs were chilled and preserved outside Zepp’s body during a painstaking 15-hour operation at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center.
They were re-implanted in their normal position after the tumor – which was about 2 inches in diameter and wrapped around Zepp’s aorta and the base of two other arteries – was removed.
Kato said that never before have six organs been removed from a patient’s abdomen to allow doctors to go after a malignant growth previously considered inoperable because of its location.
“There’s nothing really simple here,” Kato, who trained as a surgeon at Osaka University in Japan, said on Monday. “I don’t want to say acrobatic but it’s kind of, in a way. It’s a very tricky operation.
“We’ve done pieces of this surgery many times but not the whole thing like this,” said the 11-year veteran of the University of Miami Transplant Institute who led a team of doctors that operated on Zepp. Kato said the surgery was possible only because of the hospital’s experience with transplants.
Zepp was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. But Kato said the type of surgery he performed on March 4 ultimately could benefit people with more common diseases.
“There might be a lot of applications,” he said.
During the operation, Zepp, who was expected to be discharged from her Miami hospital this week, had many blood vessels replaced with artificial ones made of Gore-Tex.
Zepp, a real estate agent from Pompano Beach, shook her head when she saw her organs.
“She came to me out of desperation,” Kato said. “I’m really glad it worked out well.”
In 2000, Dr Michael J Reardon, a surgeon in Houston, removed a patient’s heart, cut out four tumors, then sewed it back in. The patient died nine months later after the cancer recurred – a risk also faced by Zepp. For now, she said she considered herself ready to live until age 100.
Reardon, an expert in cancer surgery, said the procedure was astounding.