Kari's Crusade: Kari goes into surgery

The words "you have breast cancer" are words all women fear.

More than 200,000 women in the U.S. will hear those words this year, and nearly a quarter of them will die.

That is why a Goshen woman you first met Tuesday, who is just 36 years old, decided to recently undergo what some view as radical surgery.

Kari Hazelbaker decided to have a double mastectomy and implant surgery at the same time.

Since she initially did not know she had that option, she invited us to go into surgery with her and share her story with other women facing the same disease.

In this special Medical Moment Just Before Six, we continue Kari's Crusade.

We want to warn you that while we have replaced some of the surgery with animation, this is still surgery so there may be some shots you find disturbing.

"I think it plays in every woman's mind that has had breast cancer, the worry of it returning."

And that is why Kari, a wife and mother of two, who is now cancer free after having chemotherapy, a lumpectomy and radiation one year ago, is now in the hospital preparing for a double mastectomy and implant surgery, all within three hours.

Kari said, "When I had my mammogram and my MRI it did not show the invasive cancer in my body, so this is going to give me piece of mind."

Her age and the location of her cancer make Kari a good candidate for what is called a nipple sparing mastectomy.

For many women, mastectomy mean a large cut across the breasts horizontally to remove the cancer and nipple. Often expanders are put in and a second surgery is needed a couple months later to put in implants and build a nipple.

Kari's double mastectomy and implants will be much different.

Two local doctors, who are the only in the area performing this surgery and will work as a team to remove Kari's breasts and then immediately put in an implant.

Surgeon Dr. Michael Rotkis has performed roughly 20 similar operations in Michiana over the last two years.

Dr. Rotkis said, "We're going to remove the entirety of the breast tissue but preserve all of the skin, including the nipple."

Dr. Rotkis checked in with Kari and her husband Matt.

"Our primary goal is to make sure you never have to deal with this again, right?" said Dr. Rotkis.

Dr. Rotkis is working in tandem with plastic surgeon Dr. Ronald Downs.

Unlike a traditional mastectomy, Dr's Rotkis and Downs will make Kari's incision underneath the fold of her breasts.

Dr. Rotkis said, "We're marking the inframammary fold, this is the connection that we don't want to change so that when we do the reconstruction it'll be the same exact location."

After a kiss from dad and a tearful goodbye with husband Matt, Kari is wheeled off to surgery.

Dr's Rotkis and Downs discuss where they will make their initial incision.

It will take roughly an hour for Dr. Rotkis to remove Kari's breast tissue, and says in Kari's case preserving the nipple is not a threat the cancer will return.

"That was kind of an anecdotal or historical fear, that's never really been proven," said, Dr. Rotkis.

After nearly an hour, Kari's breast tissue was removed.

It was then time for Dr. Downs to work on reconstructing Kari's breast.

Another key to the success of this surgery is a piece of equipment called Spy which gives doctors a look at the vessels.

Dr. Downs said, "So what this is telling me is that the nipple is going to be fine. That shows the blood flow through the skin flaps and we've got great, great blood flow through our skin flaps."

Another advancement in this surgery is the biologic wrap placed over the implant to prevent tightening caused by previous radiation.

Dr. Downs said, “It incorporates tissue and it provides a covering for the implant and then it will really put a nice layer between the implant and her subcutaneous skin and tissue.”

It was then time to sew Kari up and then use some surgical super glue over the incision.

He and Dr. Rotkis then repeated the procedure on Kari's other breast and wrapped her lightly.

Both doctors are pleased with the results.

Dr. Downs said, "It is very important to wake up feeling whole, and she's cancer free, that's job one."

Dr. Rotkis said,"She's going to live a long time and we want her to feel good about the appearance of her breast after treatment for breast cancer. I think it's very important to be able to offer this option."

For Kari it was important to share her story with other women who may be facing the same diagnosis.

Not all breast cancer patients are candidates for this type of surgery.

Doctors say generally it is best for women with smaller breasts and in the earlier stages of cancer, but you should certainly talk to your doctors about whether this is an option.

The implants the doctor's used are silicone and will last a lifetime.

Thursday Just Before Six, we will visit with Kari and her doctors to see how she is doing two weeks after her surgery.

Since this surgery is newer to this area, and many women do not know what to expect, Dr. Rotkis and Dr. Downs feel it is important we make the entire surgery available, which we are doing on our website Thursday after the last part of Kari’s Crusade airs.

To see the article and video of the first part of Kari's Crusade, click here.

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