• Lisa VaughnLisa Vaughn's gallbladder surgery did more than just ease her gastrointestinal discomfort. It changed her life.

    The 41-year-old Hinesville, Georgia, mom and her husband are raising four sons, ranging in age from 6 to 15. Vaughn also works as a parent mentor for the Liberty County Board of Education. Her life is so busy that for a long time, she ignored the health issues that made her uncomfortable – acid reflux, hot flashes, low energy, and frequent diarrhea. She assumed the symptoms were just part of aging and stress. That all changed during a routine appointment with her primary care doctor.

    “My doctor pressed on my stomach and I grimaced because it felt tender. The doctor noticed my grimace and ordered a sonogram to look into it. I really didn’t think they would find anything in the sonogram, but they did. They found a lot of gallstones,” said Vaughn.

    Gallstones are hard, pebble-like formations that occur in the gallbladder. Left untreated, they can travel out of the gallbladder and block bile ducts in the digestive system. This can lead to extreme pain, infection, and even death.

    Vaughn’s physician referred her to Christopher Senkowski, M.D., a minimally invasive surgeon at Memorial University Medical Center. After looking at the sonogram results, Senkowski recommended that Vaughn have her gallbladder removed. He was very familiar with the surgery she would need. In fact, he was among the first surgeons in the nation to offer “scarless gallbladder surgery.” He explained to Vaughn that he would remove her gallbladder through a single small incision in her belly button. Because there would not be a large cut, she would recover faster. Vaughn trusted Senkowski’s surgical skills, but she had never had surgery in her life, and she was nervous.

    Her surgery was scheduled for April 22, 2011. She was told to arrive at Memorial University Medical Center at 6 a.m. Hers was the first surgery scheduled that day.

    “My husband drove me to the hospital. While we were driving, he looked at me and said, ‘I know you’re scared.’ I told him I was just trying not to think about it,” said Vaughn.

    When she arrived at the hospital, she first met with a resident physician.

    “When the resident came in, I said ‘please take care of me,’” said Vaughn. The resident assured her everything would be fine. From that point on, every person she met helped to put her at ease. By the time she was placed under anesthesia, she felt calm and comfortable.

    Senkowski performed a laparoscopic cholecystectomy. He made a single one-inch incision in Vaughn’s belly button. He placed three very small ports in the incision – they contained a camera and two instruments. He then carefully removed the gallbladder through the same incision.

    By 3 p.m., Vaughn was in the car heading back home to Hinesville.

    “I couldn’t believe how quickly I recovered. I had surgery on Friday. By Monday, I was up walking around. A week later, I was back at work,” said Vaughn.

    Her only visible sign of surgery is a tiny scar that is hidden in her belly button. But the best result is the way she feels. She says she has more energy and feels less irritable. The diarrhea has stopped, the reflux is improving, and even her skin color is better. She feels more optimistic and positive about life. Vaughn says she was attributing many of her aches and pains to other issues, when they were actually related to her gallbladder.

    “I’m so glad I had the surgery. I’ve been blessed all the way around,” said Vaughn.