No Longer in Jeopardy

Margie Bowman found the answer to her cancer concerns with robotic-assisted surgery at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center.

Fort Sanders Regional patient undergoes robotic-assisted pancreas surgery

Technology is a game changer in healthcare, and Covenant Health’s Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center is experiencing new wins. Margie Bowman of Whitesburg, Tennessee, is the first patient at the hospital to undergo robotic-assisted pancreatectomy, a surgical procedure to remove part of her pancreas after it was damaged by a pre-cancerous cyst.

Today, Bowman is celebrating that big win. But her story begins with another kind of game.

The Answer: “What is Jeopardy?”

Alex Trebek, longtime host of Jeopardy, the popular TV game show, publicly shared his battle with pancreatic cancer in 2021. A few months after his death, his widow and daughter took part in a high-profile California fundraiser for pancreatic cancer research, bringing Trebek’s story back into the news.

Some 2,000 miles away in Tennessee, Bowman picked up a magazine that covered the fundraiser. She read with interest the symptoms of pancreatic cancer, one of which is pain in the abdomen.

Having wrestled with her own unexplained pain, Bowman thought a visit with her doctor might be a good idea. She was stunned when she found out something was on her pancreas that wasn’t supposed to be there.

“This paralyzed me,” Bowman says, recalling the moment when the results of her CT scan were revealed. “It was actually a very small spot, and my physician said we were going to watch it for six months—so we did.”

That small spot grew; it was biopsied and found to be a pre-cancerous cyst. Bowman’s doctor in northeast Tennessee told her she needed to travel to Knoxville for surgery.

The Surgical Solution

At Fort Sanders Regional, surgical oncologist David Roife, MD, used robotic technology to remove the pre-cancerous cyst and the damage it had done. The procedure included taking out two-thirds of Bowman’s pancreas and her spleen.

“Instead of a large abdominal incision, the procedure was performed through a set of four small incisions across the abdomen and one incision in the lower abdomen, like a c-section, in order to remove the specimen from the body,” Dr. Roife says.

The advantages of this type of minimally invasive surgery typically include less pain, decreased chance of infection, and a lower hernia risk than with a more traditional large abdominal incision. The recovery is often speedier, too.

A patient who undergoes traditional open pancreatic surgery can usually expect to be hospitalized for about a week. Not so with Margie Bowman.

“I was in the hospital for three days,” Bowman says. “My nurse stayed with me constantly and helped me so much, and everybody was just really nice.”

Since it was caught so early, her final pathology showed the pre-cancerous cyst with no evidence of invasive cancer. She will not need chemotherapy or further treatment other than surveillance.

Leading the Way in Robotic-Assisted Technology

Fort Sanders Regional was the first hospital in East Tennessee to use robotic-assisted procedures in 2004. Since then, the computer-based technology has continued to grow and provides new minimally invasive options to patients.

Sharing the Message

When it was time to be discharged, Bowman’s sister helped with recovery at home, and now Dr. Roife’s patient is doing great. She loves to go for walks, grow flowers and read magazines like the one in which she once unexpectedly found life-saving information.

But Bowman wants to do more than just enjoy each new day of the second chance she’s been given. She wants to help more people learn about pancreatic cancer.

“Nobody knows hardly anything about the pancreas,” she says. “You say ‘pancreas,’ and they look at you like, ‘I didn’t know I had one of those!’ I know that I have to tell my story because a lot more people may be helped.”

Dr. Roife says it’s important to seek out specialists and a hospital that have a vast amount of experience in cancer surgery and can provide the highest and most up-to-date standard of care.

“Surgery has an extra advantage in complicated cases such as this one. The robot’s superior visualization, 3D display, and more precise instrumentation allow delicate and accurate dissection around high-risk areas such as the pancreas and its underlying blood vessels,” he says.

To learn more about Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, its team of physicians and how technology is giving East Tennesseans a new level of advanced care, visit or call 865-331-1111.

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