Hindman opts for surgery to avoid cancer

Severe acid reflux disease left Hindman with abnormal esophageal cells.
Friday, July 4, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:30 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

When faced with a choice between a laser procedure and the removal of most of his esophagus, Mayor Darwin Hindman, who has been diagnosed with early signs of esophageal cancer, chose the second option.

On Monday, when his esophagectomy is scheduled, most of the length of his esophagus will be removed and much of his stomach will be pulled up, altered and sewn to the remnants to act as a replacement.

At a news conference Wednesday, when Hindman announced he will undergo the procedure, he said he will spend five to six weeks recovering and might not be able to eat regular-sized meals again.

Hindman suffers from a severe form of acid reflux disease called Barrett’s esophagus, which doctors think can cause cell irregularities that could become cancerous.

But Hindman said he thinks the procedure will be his best chance to rid himself of the abnormal cells.

“Esophagectomy is the most likely to get it out,” he said.

In May, doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., found that Hindman had a precancerous cell irregularity called high-grade dysplasia, which doctors recommended be treated by one of the two possible procedures. According to the National Cancer Institute, those diagnosed with esophageal cancer have a 70 percent to 95 percent chance of death within five years.

In most places where traditional surgery is performed, it involves opening the chest and abdominal cavities. But by searching the Internet, Hindman found a less invasive version of the surgery — performed laproscopically through nine or 10 holes in his chest and abdomen.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where Hindman will go for surgery, is one of a few places in the country where the less invasive approach is performed, said Clare Collins, a spokeswoman for the center.

“I’d say we’re probably one of the top centers in the county that does the most of these procedures per year,” she said.

This approach is not performed in Missouri.

Hindman’s surgery, which will involve deflating and moving one of his lungs, carries about a 35 percent risk of major complications and a 1.4 percent risk of death, he said.

Because he is otherwise in good health, Hindman said, he doesn’t think the risks he faces during the procedure will be that significant.

During the five- to six-week leave of absence, Hindman said he will regret missing out on a large part of the process of council discussions involving the city budget, though he joked he’d rather have surgery than sit through a City Council meeting. As mayor pro tem, Fourth Ward Councilman Jim Loveless will conduct council meetings during Hindman’s recovery. City Manager Ray Beck will be in charge of managing day-to-day city affairs.

Hindman said he was thankful for the efforts of his doctors and urged others with acid reflux to seek medical advice about their risks for developing cancer.

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