By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
“You have cancer.”
Jolene Nohren had heard those words before.
In October 1992, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, resulting in the first of 12 surgeries.
“I was told it was an aggressive type of cancer that continually drops little seeds,” Jolene explained. “It was in 24 lymph nodes under my right arm and 17 under my left. I was told I had six months to live.”
That was 26 years ago.
Between 1992 and 2009, she had a double mastectomy, plus multiple cancer surgeries on her brain, eyes and female organs.
Unfortunately, after an eight-year reprieve, she heard those words again in December 2017.
“I didn’t have much of a reaction,” Jolene recalled. “I was so anemic I could hardly walk. I knew another operation was just something I had to do.”
Her blood count, which was supposed to be between 12 and 15, had dropped to 3.9. Dr. Ruben Boyajian did a colonoscopy and found a tumor he described as half the size of a softball.
“He referred me to Dr. Iyoob (Ilyas),” Jolene said. “I was impressed with him at our first meeting. He wanted to get me in soon because the tumor was so large. He explained everything. I felt comfortable with him as soon as I met him.”
Dr. Iyoob suggested performing the surgery using HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital’s new da Vinci Robot. The hospital installed the $1.9 million piece of advanced technology in July 2017.
“St. Anthony’s is committed to providing exceptional care. It’s nice to have this technology close to home,” said Stacey Niebrugge, the hospital’s surgery manager.
The nearest hospitals that can provide this type of robot-assisted surgery are St. Mary’s in Decatur and St. John’s in Springfield – also part of Hospital Sisters Health System (HSHS).
“The da Vinci Xi Robot is the latest and most advanced robotic surgery system,” Dr. Iyoob noted. “It allows surgeons to operate through a few small incisions. It provides a 3D high definition vision system and tiny wristed instruments that can bend and rotate more than the human hand. Thus, it provides enhanced vision, precision and control.
“It helps make things that were not feasible with laparoscopic surgery feasible now,” Dr. Iyoob added. “I can operate in what were once very challenging areas of the body more comfortably.
“The surgery is 100 percent done by a surgeon and none of it is automated,” he emphasized. “And because the technology is minimally invasive, there is less pain, fewer complications and faster recovery, too. This can mean an earlier return to your normal routine and life.”
Dr. Iyoob was born and raised in Chennai, India, a city of approximately 7 million people. He graduated from Kasturba Medical School in India at the age of 22. He completed his general surgery residency and worked as general surgeon there for two years.
He then continued his surgical residency and trained at Oxford University Hospital in England for about four years before moving to the United States. He continued training and working at Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Florida, and the University of Arizona; and completed his colorectal fellowship and robotic training at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan.
“At that point, I had to decide whether to start my own practice or go work for someone else,” Dr. Iyoob said. “When I came to Effingham, I believed it was a great opportunity to have my practice here and, thankfully, the hospital agreed.”
The 42-year-old Dr. Iyoob, a colon and rectal surgeon, will soon celebrate his first year anniversary at HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital. He started practicing here on August 1, 2017.
He said the learning curve for robotic surgery “is not a quick one. It takes time.” For Dr. Iyoob, the training was about three years.
“There are very stringent guidelines,” he pointed out. “I was one of the earliest to be certified in colorectal robotic surgery.”
Dr. Iyoob said the da Vinci Surgical System is a cutting-edge system “that is changing the world of surgery. I’ve seen the development of surgery from open to laparoscopic to robots. Robotic surgery is now being used in nearly all of the surgical fields and will just continue to expand.”
Jolene was among Dr. Iyoob’s early patients. With use of the da Vinci Robot, he removed portions of both her small and large bowel. It lowered the cancer marker from 15 to normal.
And her recovery time?
“I was up walking the next day,” Jolene said. “But before I did anything, I had to wash my hair. I knew it would probably be sticking up and that bothered me.”
She also read a book and played Solitaire.
“My recovery was quick,” Jolene admitted. “Dr. Iyoob told me it would be and I believed him. I was a little uncomfortable, but there was no pain. And after all the surgeries I’ve had, I know what pain is.”
She was on a full liquid diet the first day and then ate pizza and tomato soup the following day.
“When I went home, I couldn’t lift more than 15 pounds and I wasn’t supposed to bend over,” Jolene explained. “My husband Monty didn’t like that because he had to clean out the cat’s litter box.”
Currently, Dr. Iyoob can perform colorectal, gallbladder and hernia surgeries with the da Vinci Robot. In the near future, Dr. Millie Nelson, with Effingham OBGYN, will begin using it for gynecological surgeries.
“Eventually, we’re looking to expand its use into other areas,” Niebrugge noted.
“I think this sends a message about just how much this hospital cares about its patients and the community,” Dr. Iyoob added. “This provides an advantage for the hospital, the surgeons, the patients and the community. And people don’t have to travel two hours for this service.”
Dr. Iyoob said he’s very proud of what the hospital has accomplished, “but it’s not just about the surgeons. We also have a good team of nurses and technicians, plus the hospital leadership had to buy into this. It all works together.”
Jolene was very impressed with the level of care she received.
“Dr. Iyoob explains things so well,” she said. “He’s thorough and he never hurries you. He makes you feel like you’re his most important patient. He even gave me his cell number and told me to call if I had any problems. I don’t think doctors usually do that.
“The care I received at the hospital was excellent,” Jolene added. “I can’t say enough good things about the hospital, the doctors, everyone. The services we can get in this town are absolutely fabulous. I just hope people realize how fortunate we are to have all this.”