Bradley Beach Woman Spared Emergency Surgery After Painful Colon Inflammation With Perforation

Jennifer Lillis

May 18, 2022

Out of nowhere, painful abdominal cramps hit Jennifer Lillis in June 2021. The 49-year-old bar manager from Bradley Beach assumed they were just bad menstrual cramps and tried to relieve the pain with ibuprofen. But her agony intensified. By evening, the pain was so bad that Jennifer thought she might pass out, so she drove straight to Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

There, she learned that diverticulitis had led to a perforation in her sigmoid colon and intestinal air had flooded her abdomen. “When you see air on a CT scan or an abdominal X-ray, you assume that the contents of the intestines are leaking into the abdominal cavity, which is a surgical emergency,” says colorectal surgeon Steven Tizio, M.D., FACS, FASCRS, who was called in to help that night. 

An Alternative to Emergency Surgery

The doctors who initially examined Jennifer suspected she’d need emergency surgery, which would involve removing the diseased portion of the colon, draining a potential abscess and creating a stoma to allow her colonic contents to temporarily drain into a colostomy bag (which is an opening through the abdominal wall where the end of the colon exits out and allows the waste to be diverted out of the body). “I didn’t even know I had diverticulitis, so all this information was new and very frightening to me,” Jennifer says. 

But after examining her, Dr. Tizio offered a gentler approach. “He said I didn’t present like someone who was as sick as the scans,” Jennifer recalls. “I had no fever, I wasn’t vomiting, and although I was in some pain, I was still able to carry on a conversation with him.” 

Dr. Tizio wanted to treat Jennifer with antibiotics to prevent further infection and give her colon time to heal on its own. “I considered, ‘Let’s watch her closely and see how she does in the next 24 to 48 hours,’” he says. “Given that she was stable and not showing signs of peritonitis [a life-threatening inflammatory process in the abdominal cavity], I couldn’t justify the surgery and giving her a colostomy bag."

Jennifer was all in. “From the minute Dr. Tizio came into my room, he looked right at me, asked how I felt and took time to explain what was going on. He made me feel comfortable, and that's why I trust him 100 percent,” she says. 

Dr. Tizio’s strategy worked, and Jennifer was able to go home five days later. She had no further attacks and returned to her normal routine very quickly.

Preventing Future Flare-ups

At a follow-up visit, Jennifer’s scans revealed chronic inflammatory changes of the sigmoid colon, which Dr. Tizio says is typical for diverticulitis. A colonoscopy confirmed this. He recommended surgery, but this time, it would be under controlled conditions, as opposed to emergency surgery. Dr. Tizio would be able to use the da Vinci surgical robot to remove the diseased section of colon.

“By performing the surgery electively with no signs of acute inflammation, the patient is less likely to need a temporary colostomy,” he says.

The robot would allow Dr. Tizio to perform minimally invasive surgery, which would decrease post-surgical pain, accelerate the return of normal bowel function, and have Jennifer back to her life more quickly—giving her a long-term solution that would prevent future flare-ups. 

Jennifer was out of the hospital only two days after the procedure and back to work within two weeks. Today, she is thriving and cured of her diverticulitis, thanks to the procedure. 

“I’m so lucky that Dr. Tizio was in the hospital the night I came in,” she says. “He told me that he’s always been taught to look at the person, not the scan, and for that, I am forever grateful.”

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The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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