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A Hiatal Hernia Was No Match for Mary Kong

Robotic surgery to repair a hiatal hernia helped Mary Kong regain her health and dramatically improve her quality of life.

For years, Mary suffered from severe anemia that required her to have blood transfusions and iron infusions. The condition also caused fatigue, she said.

She was under the care of both a hematologist and a gastroenterologist when an endoscopy revealed that she had erosion in her esophagus and a hiatal hernia.

A hiatal hernia is when the stomach bulges into the chest through the muscles that separate the chest cavity from the abdomen. Her doctors determined that if they could surgically fix the hernia, it would alleviate her severe anemia.

They wanted her to undergo a surgical procedure called paraesophageal hernia repair with a fundoplication in order to fix her hernia and prevent future erosion in her esophagus. It would be performed robotically.

In this surgery, the surgeon closes the large hiatal defect and wraps the top part of the stomach around the lower esophagus in order to reinforce the lower esophageal sphincter. This makes it less likely that acid will back up in the esophagus and cause erosion.

After some searching, they found José Espinel, MD, a surgeon with Carrollton Surgical Group who is an expert in this type of procedure. Dr. Espinel, who also performs many other types of surgeries, is certified by the American Board of Surgery.

“Dr. Espinel did a great job of explaining everything to me,” Kong said. “I understood what was going to happen during the robotic surgery, and I wasn’t worried about anything.”

The surgery has alleviated her anemia and improved her quality of life, Kong said. She is pleased to report that she hasn’t needed any blood transfusions or iron infusions — which she used to get every six weeks — since she had the procedure late last year.

“I feel great, and I’m not exhausted anymore,” Kong said. “I have so much energy now.”

Dr. Espinel said the robotic procedure was a very effective and relatively easy way to treat her condition.

“Robotic-assisted surgery gives us a greater degree of dexterity and a clearer view to perform minimally-invasive procedures,” said Dr. Espinel. “It allows us to perform a wide range of surgical procedures with smaller incisions, less blood loss, faster recoveries and a lower risk of complications.”

The recovery was indeed a breeze, according to Kong.

“It was amazing how easy it was,” she said. “When I woke up, I had no pain whatsoever and I refused the pain medications.”

Kong, 63, who resides in Douglasville, said she drank a Coca-Cola and was up walking around the hospital soon after the surgery.

“Because it was robotic surgery, I only had very tiny incisions in my upper abdomen and I wasn’t in any pain,” Kong recalls. “I went right back to work and never missed a beat.”

As the kitchen manager at a charter school that feeds more than 500 kids each day, her job keeps her on her toes and is physically demanding.

Kong scheduled her surgery over the school’s winter break to give herself a week at home to recover. But she was amazed at how good she felt immediately after the surgery.

Kong breezes though her long work days and enjoys spending time at home with her two teenagers. She still has energy for her garden, where she enjoys doing plantings in straw bales.

She wishes she had gotten the procedure sooner and urges others with her condition to seek help.

“Dr. Epsinel is a miracle worker,” Kong said. “Anybody who is suffering with a hiatal hernia should see him.”

Click the links to learn more about minimally invasive surgery and robotic surgery at Tanner and watch videos on robotic-assisted surgery. To make an appointment with a surgeon at Carrollton Surgical Group, call 678.506.7835.

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