From the time she was a teenager, Brenda Sawall’s menstrual periods were an ordeal of painful cramps, heavy bleeding and migraine headaches. Her monthly experiences only got worse as she got older. By the time she was in her 30s, Sawall’s life was “unbearable” for two weeks every month. Sawall thought about a full hysterectomy […]

From the time she was a teenager, Brenda Sawall’s menstrual periods were an ordeal of painful cramps, heavy bleeding and migraine headaches. Her monthly experiences only got worse as she got older. By the time she was in her 30s, Sawall’s life was “unbearable” for two weeks every month.

Sawall thought about a full hysterectomy after her children were born, but decided against it when she realized the traditional abdominal surgery would have required a six- to 10-week leave from her full-time management position – too long to be away from work.

“I just resigned myself to the idea that I would have to go through this [monthly pain and suffering] until I reached menopause,” says Sawall, now 47.

Finally, she met up with Dr. Greg Heal, a Brookfield obstetrician/gynecologist who is leading the effort at Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare-Elmbrook Memorial Hospital to use the da Vinci Surgical System for hysterectomies and other gynecological surgeries.

Sawall had the robot-assisted, minimally invasive procedure – which uses a small number of dime-sized incisions in the abdomen – to remove her ovaries and uterus in December 2009. She was back to work in a week. Since then, she’s been free of the debilitating pain that made life miserable.

The minimally invasive system has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a wide variety of surgical procedures, but has been used in the Milwaukee market for hysterectomy and gynecological surgeries only in recent years. According to Heal, the procedure results in less pain and scarring after surgery, less blood loss, a shorter hospital stay and quicker recovery time than the traditional abdominal or vaginal hysterectomy.

When it comes to leading-edge technology, Milwaukee-area patients don’t have to travel far. Whether it’s robot-assisted surgery, a new prostate cancer therapy that uses the body’s own immune system or a navigation system that locates hard-to-find tumors, southeastern Wisconsin hospitals offer an abundance of amazing tools and treatments that can help patients get on the road to recovery.

In line with that trend, Milwaukee’s East Side will welcome the nation’s newest acute-care hospital in October, when Columbia St. Mary’s opens a state-of-the-art health care facility so advanced that the building itself was architecturally designed to promote and enhance patient healing.

Custom-Designed Cancer Drug
For men, the FDA in April approved the use of Provenge, an “individualized” vaccine for treatment of advanced prostate cancer. The treatment process collects some of the patient’s immune cells and sends them to a manufacturing facility in New Jersey, where they are treated with a special protein. The treated cells are then put back into the patient to work with the body’s immune system to attack the cancer cells.

Dr. Rubina Qamar, a medical oncologist with Aurora Advanced Healthcare, recently prescribed Provenge for the first time, recommending it in spring 2010 for 78-year-old James Yuen of Sussex. Yuen is thought to be the first Milwaukee-area prostate cancer patient to receive the treatment.

Although not a cure, Provenge has been shown to increase patients’ survival time. The treatment is available to men with prostate cancer that has spread and no longer responds to hormone therapy.

The medical field is excited about Provenge because it’s an example of personalized medicine, a treatment therapy that’s custom-designed to work with a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer cells, Qamar says. She is hopeful this example of immunotherapy will soon be available for treatment of other types of cancer.

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Cancer GPS
On another cancer-fighting front, several Wisconsin health care providers now offer the superDimension inReach System. A minimally invasive, electromagnetic navigation bronchoscopy, the system works like advanced GPS to search for and locate lesions or tumors in far-reaching areas of the chest and lung. The system combines several technologies in addition to electromagnetic navigation, including 3-D CT scanning, computer programs and a sensor-equipped, steerable catheter that allows 360-degree travel through the lung’s complex bronchial tree.

The innovative approach to finding cancerous tumors and lesions in lungs and lymph nodes lets doctors diagnose and treat lung cancer at an earlier stage, says Sue Derus, executive director of cancer services for Froedtert & Community Health. Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa is the latest Milwaukee-area institute to offer superDimension inReach.

Without the technology, a patient would need traditional surgery to have a suspicious-looking lesion checked for cancer.

Balloons for Sinusitis
A minimally invasive treatment option is now being used to help chronic sinusitis sufferers breathe a bit easier. “Balloon sinuplasty” technology is now available at a growing number of Milwaukee-area hospitals.

The procedure uses a small, flexible balloon catheter that’s snaked through the nostril into the blocked passageway, opening the sinus without requiring surgical removal of bone and tissue.

“Balloon sinuplasty is similar to cardiac catheterization and angioplasty for the heart and blood vessels,” says Dr. Anthony Rieder, an otolaryngologist who has been performing the procedure at Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare-Wauwatosa. “We’re using guide wires to introduce a balloon over the opening of the sinus. As we dilate that balloon, it will open that sinus, giving us a less-invasive option to enter the sinus.”

Rieder’s use of the procedure in place of traditional surgical methods has increased threefold over the past year. However, both Rieder and Dr. Todd Loehrl, an otolaryngologist at Froedtert, caution that it’s not a quick fix for sinus infections.

“It’s a very viable technology, and for the properly selected patient, it is an excellent tool,” Loehrl says.

Healing Design
When it opens along the intersection of Lake Drive and North Avenue in October, Columbia St. Mary’s $417 million hospital will be the nation’s latest example of health care using “evidence-based design,” meaning the hospital’s layout and design is centered on improving the quality of patient care and health outcomes.

As Columbia St. Mary’s officials explain it, evidence-based design not only accommodates the latest medical science and technology needed to treat illness and disease, it also creates an environment that eases patients’ stress. This speeds their recovery, helps prevent the spread of infection and enhances employee morale.

In doing their research, hospital officials and the project’s architectural firm, HOK of St. Louis, worked with the Center for Health Design, a global organization that supports evidence-based design of health care facilities. Columbia St. Mary’s is one of a few U.S. hospitals to be part of the center’s Pebble Project, a research effort showing how design has improved hospitals’ quality of patient care, operational efficiency and financial performance.

An example of the most creative placement of technology can be found in the hospital’s operating rooms, where sophisticated medical equipment is suspended on booms from the ceiling, giving surgeons and medical staff maximum space to move about unencumbered by electrical wires and storage carts that take up floor space in older operating suites.

To make patients as comfortable as possible, acoustics throughout the hospital were designed to minimize noise, and patient rooms are large enough to accommodate family visits. Windows are used generously in patient rooms and respite areas to maximize exposure to natural light and allow spectacular views of area greenery, Lake Michigan and Downtown Milwaukee.

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Research shows that easing patients’ mental stress leads to faster healing and shorter hospital stays, says Paul Strohm, HOK’s health care director and leader of the Columbia St. Mary’s project.

Patients and their families also will have convenient access to computers and the Internet so they can look up information related to the patient’s care. Improving patients’ access to information makes them feel more in control of their situation, further easing their stress.

If all comes together as planned, these and other evidence-based design features will combine to improve the overall quality of care, leading to better health for patients.

Health Tips by Julia Sensat Waldren
Sleep Right for a Long Life If you’re not getting six to eight hours of sleep each night, you could be shortening your life. A study in Sleep found that people who sleep fewer than six hours each night are 12 percent more likely to die before age 65. At the same time, those who sleep more than nine hours per night are 30 percent more likely to die early. A lack of sleep can be a cause of premature death – linked to a higher risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity – while oversleeping is more likely to be a symptom of serious illness.

A Bone to Pick African-Americans are 40 percent less likely than Caucasians to undergo bone marrow transplantation to treat cancers of the blood, reports an analysis in Cancer.Also called hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT), the treatment is costly and usually requires a lengthy hospitalization and follow-up care. There is a shortage of African-American bone marrow donors, though this shortage doesn’t fully account for the discrepancy. The researchers, including Medical College of Wisconsin faculty, urge the medical community to work to eliminate the inequities.

Say No to Salami Eating just one to two slices of deli meats or one hot dog per day may raise your risk of heart disease by 42 percent and diabetes by 19 percent, reports a study in Circulation. Culprits include bacon, salami, sausages, hot dogs and processed deli meats. Unprocessed beef, lamb and pork were not linked to higher risks of heart attacks and diabetes. The study did not include poultry, nor did it examine high blood pressure or cancer.

Healthy Teeth, Healthy Heart Brushing your teeth regularly can help cut the risk of heart disease, reports BMJ. Data from about 11,000 adults shows that those who brushed less frequently had a 70 percent higher risk of heart disease. Poor oral hygiene leads to periodontal disease, causing inflammation of the gums, which in turn increases cardiovascular risk. The American Dental Association recommends brushing twice a day, flossing, eating a balanced diet and getting regular dental checkups.

Get Your Ear Implant Early Cochlear implants help treat age-related progressive hearing loss in patients over 65, but they benefit younger patients more, found a study by Medical College of Wisconsin researchers in Archives of Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery. Nearly all patients benefitted from the procedure, but younger ones performed better than older ones on standard hearing tests after a year. This suggests the procedure should be done sooner rather than later to maximize results.