Levandowski's huge cyst Science

A surgery… that took four days!

When Gertrude Levandowski came with an ovarian cyst, too big that it affected her heart, doctors had no option but to take it slow. Photo for representational purpose only.  

Time definitely has a relationship with success. Irrespective of the field you are talking about, you have to spend some time with it to achieve success. In less than 18 months, Eugene B. Ely laid the foundation for naval aviation. Over 12 hours travelling about 100 km and Bertha Benz marked the beginning of automobiles. The list is probably endless…

One place where the success rate varies inversely (on most occasions) with the amount of time spent in the process is an operation theatre. The longer the procedure, it only signals more complications, diminishing our hopes of a successful surgery.

So the headline should have caught your attention. Yes, we are going to discuss an operation that took four days in all, making it the longest in medical history. And to revisit that, we would have to make our way to February 1951.

A resident of Burnips, Michigan, Gertrude Levandowski began to gain weight following her husband’s death in the 1940s. An undiagnosed ovarian cyst was the reason behind her weight gain, and she reached a weight of over 270 kg.

What’s an ovarian cyst?

An ovarian cyst is any collection of fluid that is surrounded by a very thin wall within the ovary. Occurring in women of all ages, the vast majority of cysts are either functional or harmless (benign). If a cyst is over 5 cm in diameter, however, it might have to be surgically removed.

Last week’s answer

Eugen and Richard were the two sons who accompanied their mother Bertha Benz in her historic drive. Rajshekar Bunage of class 9, Karnatak Public School, Bidar was among the first to get it correct. Congratulations!
In Levandowski’s case, the tumour grew to such proportions that it led to heart problems. It had to be removed, but the cardiac issues implied that removing it directly would certainly lead to her death.

It was under these circumstances that Dr. M.S.Roberts suggested a radically different method. Rather than merely removing the cyst, Roberts proposed that they initially drain the fluid and then hack it off once it reduces to a manageable dimension.

120 drops per minute

Progress, however, was excruciatingly slow. Extracting fluid at the rate of 120 drops per minute, they removed nearly 90 kg from February 4 to 8. The slow progress was also to ensure that there was no rapid drop in pressure that might create concerns for her already fragile heart.

Once the size of the tumour posed no real threat, it was removed the conventional way, accounting for nearly another 45 kg. The 58-year-old Levandowski recovered quickly once the procedure was done, weighing about 140 kg now, nearly half of where she started before the operation.

After a marathon 4-day procedure, the doctors had successfully got rid of an ovarian cyst that weighed over 135 kg, breaking in the process the record for the longest operation in history.

Write to the author at ganesh.a.s@thehindu.co.in

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 2:10:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/in-school/sh-science/a-surgery-that-took-four-days/article6848913.ece

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