March 15, 2021
On the morning of St. Patrick’s Day 2019, Jessica Davey, a 34-year-old married mother of two from Hillsdale, New Jersey, woke up with severe lower back pain. Although Jessica had dealt with similar pain a few times during the past several years and was treated at urgent care for urinary tract infections, this pain felt different — and nothing was making it go away.
Jessica was also worried because she knew her husband, Tommy, who is the owner of an Irish pub, would be busy all day.
“St. Patrick’s Day is the biggest day of the year for my husband’s business, so I knew it would be difficult for him to help me,” said Jessica.
A Complex Diagnosis
Jessica decided to go to the emergency department at Hackensack Meridian Pascack Valley Medical Center in Westwood, New Jersey, where physicians quickly diagnosed her with a blockage in her ureter, which normally allows urine to drain from the kidney into the bladder. In Jessica’s case, a blood vessel crossing over her ureter was preventing urine from draining, which in turn led to swelling in her kidney.
The on-call urologist attempted to put in a stent to relieve the pressure on her kidney. But what was supposed to be a 30-minute operation turned into a four-hour procedure — and the procedure wasn’t working.
“By now, it was the evening of St. Patrick’s Day, and my husband never made it to the bar,” said Jessica. “[My on-call urologist] suggested that we call another physician who he knew was an expert in ureter surgery.”
That expert was Michael D. Stifelman, M.D., chair of Urology and director of Robotic Surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center and professor and founding chair of Urology at Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University.
“Our team specializes in treating complex cases like Jessica’s, and as soon as I got the call, I was ready to help,” said Dr. Stifelman.
Jessica was taken by ambulance to Hackensack University Medical Center and given a temporary urostomy pouch, which is a special bag worn on the outside of the abdomen that collects urine. The urostomy pouch relieved the pressure on Jessica’s kidney by allowing urine to drain. Jessica was then able to go home until she could be scheduled for additional surgery to repair her ureter and remove the urostomy pouch.
A Permanent Fix
About a month later, Dr. Stifelman performed surgical reconstruction, or pyeloplasty, through a small incision in Jessica’s belly button using cutting-edge robotic-assisted technology.
Hackensack University Medical Center is the first hospital in New Jersey and one of the few in the world to acquire the innovative system used by surgeons to perform complex urological procedures, such as Jessica’s.
With the robotic single-port technology, surgeons only need to make a small incision using the robot, which may cause less stress, shorten recovery time and improve the cosmetic outcome for a variety of urologic procedures, including prostate cancer, kidney cancer and advanced urinary tract reconstruction surgery.
“The precision of robotic surgery allowed me to treat the blockage of Jessica’s ureter and relieve pressure on her kidney through a half-inch incision,” said Dr. Stifelman. “Jessica’s kidney now functions normally, and she no longer needs to use a urostomy pouch.”
As a result, Jessica now has a completely normal life and was able to quickly and safely return to her job as a hairstylist. Due to the small incision, Jessica recovered from surgery very quickly — and, because her incision was made inside her belly button, she has no visible scarring.
“During the entire ordeal, I only took two weeks off work,” said Jessica.
Jessica also said that everyone at Hackensack University Medical Center was “amazing” — especially Dr. Stifelman and Suzannah Sorin, P.A.-C, the urology physician assistant who helped with her care.
“No matter what I needed, the team got back to me right away — even when I needed help getting disability for the time I was out of work,” Jessica said.
‘Luck of the Irish’
On St. Patrick’s Day 2021, two years after her ordeal began, Jessica is thankful for her successful outcome and said she is looking forward to celebrating the day with her husband at his pub.
Jessica also said she feels lucky to have gotten connected to Dr. Stifelman when she did — and lucky that he answered his phone late on St. Patrick’s Day 2019.
“I guess you could call it the ‘Luck of the Irish,’” Jessica said.