Back on Track
For years, Greg Bauer of Darien loved playing tennis on Saturdays. This hard-working 49-year-old always looked forward to meeting up with friends on the court. That is, until a few months ago, when an agonizing hernia brought his game to a screeching halt.
"It became impossible to move anywhere on the court. Every sudden movement caused a sharp pain," he remembers.
His hernia didn't hurt when he did everyday things around the house. While sitting at his desk or standing in his kitchen, he didn’t notice it. But quick movements and jogging were excruciating.
Greg's primary care physician diagnosed the soreness in Greg’s right groin (the area between the abdomen and thigh) as an inguinal hernia. An inguinal hernia happens when part of a person’s intestine protrudes (sticks out under the skin) through a weakness or tear in muscle in the lower abdominal wall. Inguinal hernias account for 80 percent of all hernias, and are more common in men.
An inguinal hernia can occur for a number of reasons: wear and tear over the years, or a weakness in the abdominal wall that is present at birth. Moving suddenly, coughing, lifting something heavy or bending over can cause pain that ranges from a dull ache to a sharp pinch.
Out of the millions of people in the United States who have hernias, it’s estimated that only a fraction of them seek treatment.
However, there can be serious risks to delaying hernia repair, says general surgeon Sean Duerr, MD, who repairs hernias regularly as part of his practice. Part of the intestine can become trapped (incarcerated), and stool may not be able to pass through. This can cause additional pain, as well as nausea, vomiting and abdominal swelling. Another possible complication is that a loop of intestine can swell and become tightly trapped (strangulated) in the hernia, which causes the tissue to die (gangrene). If the intestine becomes strangulated, emergency surgery is needed.
Because Greg was in pain, he didn’t want to waste any more time off the court or risk developing further problems. He wanted to get back to his regular routine. At his primary care physician’s recommendation, he went to see general surgeon Andrew Kenler, MD.
"Surgery is the only treatment option to permanently fix a hernia," says Dr. Kenler, who repairs more than 150 hernias laparoscopically each year. "Some people worry about having surgery, but advances in surgical techniques—such as laparoscopic surgery— make it easier on the patient."
Laparoscopic hernia repair is an alternative to traditional open surgery. Patients who choose laparoscopic surgery usually recover faster (one to two weeks versus four weeks with traditional open surgery for hernia repair), and have less postoperative pain, a shorter hospital stay and a smaller scar. "Laparoscopic hernia repair is the preferred method for people who need to return to work or activities quickly," says Dr. Kenler. "Most people are able to go home the same day."
Greg went in for surgery at Bridgeport Hospital on a Friday morning last spring. After Greg fell asleep (under general anesthesia), Dr. Kenler made three small incisions (cuts) that measured between five and 10 millimeters long—shorter than the length of a sunflower seed! A tiny camera, called a laparoscope, was gently placed into the incision. The camera sent images from within Greg’s body to a video monitor, allowing Dr. Kenler to see the operative area enlarged on the screen. Through the other incisions, he used special surgical instruments that resemble chopsticks to repair Greg’s hernia. Dr. Kenler then closed the tiny incisions with special surgical glue.
The surgery took about a half-hour to complete, followed by a couple of hours of recovery. "I was back working at my desk the next day," says Greg. "The small incisions healed quickly. I have movement and flexibility back. Best of all, I am pain-free on my stationary bike. I'm already jogging again, and I look forward to getting back on the tennis court!"
For information about Bridgeport Hospital general surgeons specializing in hernia repair, please call toll free, 24/7, at 1(888) 357-2396, or visit the find a doctor page.