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Article originally published Spring 2023 in The Monitor magazine.

Makala Shipley, a physical therapy assistant from New Lexington, is finally living a life fitting for a 23-year-old. For years, she spent her days searching for relief from persistent health concerns only to come up with more questions than answers. Determined to be her own advocate, Makala’s search eventually led her to Fairfield Medical Center in 2022.

Since 2019, Makala had visited her local emergency department on three separate occasions for severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Each time, she was met with a slew of tests and referrals. As she and her providers worked to determine the cause of her unbearable symptoms, a culprit came into view: her gallbladder.

The gallbladder is a small, pouch-like organ in the abdomen. Inflating and deflating like a balloon, it stores bile throughout the day and then releases it to help the intestinal tract break down and digest food. When this process is interrupted, functional gallbladder disease can occur.

“I had an ultrasound and CT scan that revealed abnormalities in my gallbladder,” Makala said. “I didn’t have any stones, but I had what they called sludge. So I started a medication and thought that was going to be the end of it, but that wasn’t the case.”

As Makala continued to suffer from bloating and other unpleasant symptoms, particularly after eating, she readied herself to see a gastroenterologist for a new plan of action.

“It was getting to the point where these symptoms were affecting my day-to-day life,” Makala said. “I was missing work. I never felt well enough to hang out with my friends or watch my nieces. It was more than a minor inconvenience.”

With no evidence of gallstones, Makala and her local specialists discussed alternative causes of her condition. In some cases, slow or poor emptying of the gallbladder, known as biliary dyskinesia, can cause symptoms such as those Makala was experiencing. To investigate further, Makala underwent more testing to evaluate how well bile was moving through her gallbladder. To her surprise, the results were normal.

“I thought we were going to finally find answers and move forward,” Makala said. “But when my results came back inconclusive, it felt like we had hit another dead end.”

With her gastroenterologist reluctant to pursue surgery, Makala took matters into her own hands. After asking around for recommendations, she was led to general surgeon David Hasl, MD, at Fairfield Healthcare Professionals General Surgery River View. After contacting the practice directly, Makala then helped coordinate a referral and the transfer of her medical records to schedule an appointment.

“As soon as I met with Dr. Hasl, it was a turning point for me,” Makala said. “He took the time to ask questions and get to know me, and he agreed it was time to get me back to living my life. I think I was fighting back tears at that point.”

After reviewing Makala’s extensive medical history and symptoms, Dr. Hasl recommended moving forward with a minimally invasive robotic cholecystectomy, or gallbladder removal. The procedure was performed Nov. 9, 2022, using the da Vinci XI surgical system at Fairfield Medical Center.

“Robotic surgery is really unparalleled in terms of control and visualization,” Dr. Hasl said. “For these types of procedures, we’re able to manipulate our instruments more precisely than ever before. We can also see the surgical field in 3D with better magnification. All these features reduce the risk of complications.”

In addition to these benefits, Dr. Hasl also used special imaging, known as da Vinci FireflyTM, during Makala’s procedure for enhanced safety. This capability uses fluorescent, or glowing, dye to provide real- time identification of different organs and structures.

Makala, who was discharged shortly following her procedure, described her recovery as “a breeze.” Although she experienced mild post-operative pain, the discomfort was a far cry from her pre- operative circumstances. And when she experienced a bout of nausea during her recovery, her care team was quick to prescribe the right medications to keep her comfortable and her healing on track.

With her symptoms resolved, Makala is setting her sights on the future. In addition to planning a wedding and raising two new kittens, she’s making her health a priority.

“I could tell everything had changed the second I got home,” Makala said. “I just feel better all around. I can finally focus on doing the things that a normal person my age should be doing. I’m grateful for that, and I would encourage anyone dealing with similar symptoms to keep pushing for answers. The outcome is worth the effort.”

Use these links to learn more about Fairfield Medical Center’s Robotics and Surgical Care programs.