My surgeon told me he would decide during surgery whether or not I could undergo breast reconstruction immediately, but I’m so glad he decided to wait before proceeding with implants. It gave me a chance to heal, and the results of my reconstruction are just remarkable,” said Sarah Bessin, a 47-year-old breast cancer survivor.
Bessin was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2015. After she opted to begin breast reconstruction at the same time of her mastectomy in October 2015, Bessin reaped the benefits of undergoing breast reconstruction that combines two tissue-saving technologies to diagnose and avoid serious complications.
The unique combination of SPY Elite and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy at MedStar Georgetown saved Bessin’s breast tissue and improved her breast reconstruction outcome. To date, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital is the only center in the Greater Washington, D.C. region offering the combination of SPY Elite and hyperbaric oxygen therapy for patients with breast cancer.
“Everything that we do in plastic surgery involves blood flow. If blood flow is disrupted, skin above it can flake off and even die. This is the reason we need to be able to anticipate those problems intraoperatively so we can act quickly,” says Troy Pittman, MD, Bessin’s breast reconstruction surgeon.
A New Valuable Player in the Operating Room
After a mastectomy, the plastic surgery team enters the operating room with a fluorescent imaging system, SPY Elite. SPY Elite has a long arm that connects to an infrared lamp device, which is used for scanning over a patient’s body. A special contrast is injected through the patient’s IV line, and a TV monitor shows the scans of breast tissue and blood vessels in real time. A breast reconstruction surgeon will move the SPY Elite lamp over different areas of the breast to detect the quality of blood flow in breast tissue before proceeding with the surgery. The system’s monitoring of the blood flow helps surgeons determine if the patient’s tissue is in a safe state to move forward with surgery and place an implant. If blood flow is limited, surgeons will add hyperbaric oxygen therapy after surgery to promote healing in the tissue.
“SPY Elite lets me look at the blood supply of the breast tissue and the nipple in real time. This helps us diagnose a problem early on and initiate hyperbaric oxygen within 24 hours, if we need to,” says Dr. Pittman.
SPYing a Problem
During Bessin’s procedure, the SPY Elite imaging system informed Dr. Pittman’s team that there were worrisome vascular changes in her breast skin following the mastectomy. To avoid compromising the vascular health of the skin, Dr. Pittman decided on a different plan. The new breast reconstruction approach for Bessin meant waiting on the implants and placing tissue expanders, a type of deflated temporary implant, in the surgery site. This plan allows for healing time in the hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber.
“Our goal is to get patients in for treatment as soon as possible. We are aggressively treating the patient to save their breast tissue and augment their healing,” said Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, medical director of Hyperbaric Medicine in the Department of Plastic Surgery. “Our dedicated team of physicians, nurses and technicians works to ensure that patients remain safe and comfortable during their treatment regimen.”
Healing Tissue within Days
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy exposes patients to pure oxygen in a pressurized space. Sending patients to the hyperbaric oxygen chamber treats the initial blood flow issue and can help the patient avoid future healing problems. Although treatment begins within 24 hours after surgery, patients do not have to stay at the hospital. Patients will only visit the hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber once or twice a day for about an hour.
Bessin’s tissue healed in only 13 hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatments. Her hyperbaric oxygen therapy schedule started with two visits to the hospital per day, which later decreased to one visit per day near the end of her treatment.
“I bounced back quite quickly. I’m already working my normal schedule, and my energy level is back to normal,” said Bessin. “I’m so grateful to my doctors for providing this therapy!”
Treatment Affords Rest and Relaxation Time
Bessin said she spent most of her time relaxing in the hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, which is a large glass tube. In the chamber, patients are required to leave most items outside of the chamber to minimize any chance of creating a spark in the oxygen chamber. Patients cannot wear makeup, lotion, nail polish or outside clothing, nor can they bring in cell phones, books or paper. A glass of water and a cotton gown are permitted inside the chamber. During treatment, a nurse or technician stays in the room the whole time to administer the hyperbaric oxygen therapy, answer questions or assist with movie selections.
“Georgetown has a great movie selection!” said Bessin.
Access for Every Breast Reconstruction Patient at MedStar Georgetown
Dr. Pittman has used SPY Elite with hyperbaric oxygen therapy at MedStar Georgetown for five years. For breast reconstruction, Dr. Pittman’s team uses SPY Elite on almost every patient, but particularly in those who want to begin breast reconstruction with an implant immediately after a mastectomy.
“SPY Elite and hyperbaric oxygen therapy allow us to aggressively treat patients safely and predictably,” said. Dr. Pittman. “This approach gives our patients the best chance for success.”
Read the full article on Medstar Georgetown University Hospital’s website.