Above: Dr. Sullivan and Veronika
Veronika thought she was going to die. It was 2 a.m. and she was lying on her kitchen floor, unable to feel her face or hands and seeing a stream of shooting white lights. As she called 911, she was thinking about her family and wondering if she’d ever see them again.
Paramedics showed up and loaded her into an ambulance, and she was rushed to St. Joseph’s Health Centre. After initial tests were completed, a surgeon explained that she wasn’t dying – she had an inflamed gallbladder, and the best way to cure the pain was to have it surgically removed.
“A gallbladder!” she said. “I asked ‘Wouldn’t there be a warning?’ And the surgeon said ‘There is a good chance you’ve been experiencing symptoms for five or six months.’”
The gallbladder is part of your body’s digestive system. It stores bile – a fluid created by the liver – that helps your body digest fat. Though it performs an important function, your body can live without it.
“After removal of your gallbladder, your body might not digest a fatty meal as well,” said Dr. Paul Sullivan, the surgeon who removed Veronika’s gallbladder, “but for most patients that settles down after a few months. The biggest change is usually that these patients have been experiencing pain that they thought was related to indigestion or a dietary problem – and after the removal, that pain disappears.”
Inflamed gallbladders are most often caused by gallstones – small deposits that can be caused by a build-up of cholesterol or bile salts. Dr. Sullivan said gallbladder removal is one of the most common operations Canadian general surgeons perform.
“Over my entire career I’ve done almost 2,000 laparoscopic cholecystectomies,” he said. “Surgery is the recommended course of action for people with these types of symptoms to improve their quality of life.”
To reduce your chances of getting gallstones or having issues with your gallbladder, Dr. Sullivan recommends eating a healthy, low fat diet, avoiding fried foods, high fat dairies and excessive oil.
As for Veronika, she’s thankful for the experience that got her back home so quickly.
“Throughout my stay at the hospital, I felt like somebody was watching over me – as if I was being guided by this wonderful, positive energy that led me to the right people at the right time,” she said. “It was an astounding experience – one that I will never forget.
“The doctors and nurses at St. Joe’s are the best and completely in their element. I continue to feel very fortunate and grateful to have been surrounded by these wonderful people.”
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