Breast reconstruction surgery breakthrough

FOR eight hours Rachel Cooper lay unconscious as a handful of nurses and a surgeon hovered over her. 

Patient Rachel Cooper (centre front) with her South West Healthcare support team, clinical nurse specialists Dearna Leishman (left) and Ann Ryan, surgeon Robert Toma, associate unit manager Chris Toone, McGrath breast care nurse Rebecca Hay and clinical nurse specialist Sharon Smith. 140630RG02 Picture: ROB GUNSTONE

Patient Rachel Cooper (centre front) with her South West Healthcare support team, clinical nurse specialists Dearna Leishman (left) and Ann Ryan, surgeon Robert Toma, associate unit manager Chris Toone, McGrath breast care nurse Rebecca Hay and clinical nurse specialist Sharon Smith. 140630RG02 Picture: ROB GUNSTONE

By then the cancer that had stolen three years and her right breast was gone. 

The years spent in radiotherapy were over for Ms Cooper, but a tricky operation could replace what the cancer had taken. 

For the first time, surgeons in Warrnambool are performing breast reconstruction on public patients.

“What we’ve done is transfer the tissue from the abdomen to previously where her breast was to reconstruct the breast,” plastic and reconstructive surgeon Rob Toma explained. 

“We’ve reconnected the blood vessels to supply that tissue in her chest.” 

Another similar procedure was carried out for the first time in Warrnambool in February at St John of God private hospital, but the latest development means women on the public waiting lists will now be able to have the surgery without having to travel to Melbourne. 

It also makes Warrnambool the only hospital between Geelong and Adelaide to offer the surgery. 

Ms Cooper already knows the downside of the road trips. 

“I had radiotherapy in Geelong two years ago and you’re down there on your own,” she said.

“I’ve got an incision from hip to hip and sitting in a car coming home from that three hours would have just been agony and excruciating.” 

It’s taken South West Healthcare two years of planning and the purchase of a special microscope worth thousands of dollars to offer the surgery. 

McGrath Foundation breast care nurse Rebecca Hay has followed Ms Cooper since the cancer was discovered three years ago. 

“It’s effectively closing the door on her breast cancer diagnosis,” Ms Hay said. Another procedure has already been booked for July. 

“There is a fairly lengthy list of people who want to access this procedure,” Mr Toma said. 

“The rates of breast cancer are increasing unfortunately. 

“The recurrent rate is that one in eight women will have breast cancer. Current evidence would say 70 per cent of women will undergo breast reconstruction.”

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