Medical first for Canada performed on John Abbott teen

Stéphanie Alcaraz-Robinson
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Shriners, Children's hospitals behind surgical innovation

The Chest Wall Anomalies Clinic of the Shriners Hospitals for Children and Montreal Children’s Hospital became the first health institution to attempt a minimally-invasive surgical procedure on a John Abbott College student to successfully correct a chest abnormality.

Dr. Sherif Emil, head of the pediatric general and thoracic surgery division, performed the surgery.

"It's the most exciting thing, because this will become an option that did not exist before," the Westmount resident said. "…We actually now have the local expertise and don't have to bring in someone from outside. Patients will benefit from this."

Mackenzie Cave was first of two boys that received the experimental surgery. Both were operated on the same day.

In his early teens, the 17-year-old developed a condition called pectus carinatum. Hard to pronounce but easy to see, this condition pushed his chest wall outwards. He slowly reduced sports activities, as a result of the condition, and his self-esteem took a hit, too.

"It means a lot for me, I've wanted to get my chest fixed for years," said the resident of Les Cedres, a small community located 10 km southwest of Vaudreuil. For him, the surgery means more freedom and the possibility to do activities he wouldn't normally do before – like going to the pool.

He said he never had second thoughts on his surgery.

Dr. Emil was very open and available to the teenager, sending emails explaining the progress. "He put so much time and effort into it," said Mackenzie.

The teenager was expecting to get little media coverage, but instead was overwhelmed by all the attention he is receiving. The spotlight, he said, will help other kids like him get the treatment they deserve.

Leading up to the life-changing procedure, his mother, Leslie O'Neill, admitted being sometimes scared.

"When you first go through something, it is always a little frightening," she said. "…He's a confident kid in general, but we saw him start to withdraw."

For the surgical team, and Emil, the amount of stress associated with the surgery was unlike any other.

"It's not a normal day at work, it is very stressful. These are healthy young men," he said. "But, it's always been the story of surgery: the first time you perform a new surgery, you are under a tremendous amount of stress."

Fortunately, Emil was also in good hands: Robert E. Kelly Jr., M.D., Chief, Division of Pediatric Surgery and Chief, Department of Surgery, Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, Virginia was present to share the new technique.

Emil grew up in Egypt, where his two parents were also doctors. Now an American, he chose to move to Westmount for the convenience. His outlook on his profession is simple and humble: "It just comes down to one patient at a time and it does not matter where you are."

He views his new technique in an even humbler way. "In the greater context, two patients that had this and now don't have it anymore is not a big deal, but for these two patients, it did change their lives. That’s the most fulfilling thing."

It's not the first time the surgeon has performed a medical "first." He became the first surgeon in Canada to perform an endoscopic treatment to remove a tumor in a boy's head by using a camera though his hairline to avoid scarring in the face.

The founder of the Chest Wall Anomalies Clinic is foreseeing a great future in his field.

"We are only a small community, about only 60 surgeons from coast-to-coast. News travels very quickly. This will spread very quickly and people will want to do it."

Organizations: Shriners Hospitals for Children, Chest Wall Anomalies Clinic, Division of Pediatric Surgery Department of Surgery

Geographic location: Canada, Vaudreuil, Westmount Montreal Children Norfolk, Virginia Egypt

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