The words “breast cancer” still strike fear in the hearts of women. The website Breastcancer.org states that approximately 1 out of 8 American women will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in their lives. The good news is the fatality rate has decreased since 1990 and there’s more hope than ever for breast cancer patients. At Omega Hospital’s new breast center, doctors and staff combine state-of-the-art medical care with personalized treatment in a comfortable environment that makes things as easy as possible on patients as they fight breast cancer.
The Omega Hospital is located at 2525 Severn Ave. in Metairie and features a number of top-notch amenities for its patients, as well as cutting-edge breast procedures performed by highly skilled and experienced doctors. Omega’s breast center offers its patients all the care they need in a single setting. Oncology, surgery, and reconstruction - all of these services are under one roof at Omega and board-certified surgeons like Bob Allen, Ali Sadeghi, and Mary Jo Wright are at the forefront of breast cancer and reconstructive care in America.
Aside from the decades of combined experience these doctors have, the nurses and staff are also highly trained and experienced. Dr. Wright, a breast oncology and plastic reconstructive surgeon, says all members of Omega’s staff are specially trained to work with breast cancer procedures and patients. “It takes a special kind of person to do this work,” Dr. Wright said.
Women in need of breast cancer surgery can get all of the traditional procedures like lumpectomies and mastectomies at Omega. However, there are a number of newer, state-of-the-art procedures patients can benefit from like nipple-sparing and skin-sparing mastectomies. These procedures are as oncologically effective as any of the old-school surgeries, but give plastic surgeons more to work with when reconstructing the breast.
The continuity of care is important in getting women reconstructive treatment. Dr. Ali Sadeghi, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, specializing in microsurgical breast reconstruction operating at Omega and with Crescent City Physicians at Touro Infirmary, says the majority of breast cancer patients will not return for reconstructive surgery if it’s not offered at the time of the cancer removal. This is often because a woman, after going through the diagnosis, an operation, and then chemo or radiation, does not feel like devoting even more time out of her life for yet another procedure. By being able to perform the reconstruction with the cancer removal surgery, Omega gives its patients a valuable service while saving them time.
Dr. Bob Allen, a plastic surgeon specializing in microsurgical breast reconstruction, pioneered the DIEP (Deep Inferior Epigastric Perforator) flap procedure in New Orleans, and it has quickly become the gold standard for breast reconstruction around the world. In the past, women who wanted to have breast reconstruction after a mastectomy would have to have skin and fat and some muscle removed from their abdomen. However, the DIEP flap takes only skin and fat from the abdomen. By sparing muscle, it reduces post-op pain and shortens the recovery time. Even though this procedure has been wildly successful, Dr. Allen has continued to explore new options. “It’s my passion; it’s my life’s work,” Dr. Allen said. “There’s always room for improvement. There needs to be different options. One operation does not fit everybody.”
As revolutionary as the DIEP procedure is, it still has its limitations. Some women are not good candidates for it either because they’ve had a previous procedure like a liposuction or a tummy tuck or because their body type accumulates fat below the waist instead of in the stomach. A year and a half ago, Dr. Allen created the PAP (Profunda Artery Perforator) flap. The PAP flap involves taking skin and fat from the back of the thigh underneath the buttock crease. “Aside from the advantages it shares with the other procedures, PAP has the benefit of taking skin and fat from an area that is concealed, so the scar will be hidden” said Dr. Sadeghi. Each procedure is performed to achieve the most natural-looking result possible for the woman.
Sometimes, patients need to have lymph nodes removed during the cancer treatment. In certain cases, this can result in unwelcome swelling in the forearms and hands, known as lymphedema. At Omega, Dr. Sadeghi and Dr. Allen can perform vascularized lymph node transfer (VLNT), transferring lymph nodes from other parts of the body to the area they’re needed and ending the unpleasant side effects of the initial removal.
Saving lives is of course satisfying for the doctors, but so is the reconstructive work. Dr. Wright says providing reconstruction post-mastectomy is valuable because it helps give women their femininity back. A woman who has had a mastectomy often feels insecure about her appearance, but reconstructive work can help them regain their confidence. “We help our patients live longer and feel better about themselves...We help them feel whole again,” Dr. Wright said.While the doctors at Omega all find the work continually stimulating and challenging, they also love their interactions with their patients. Questions are always encouraged by the doctors at Omega, who firmly believe that an educated patient is the best patient. Dr. Sadeghi says going on the entire journey with a woman, from her initial fear over having breast cancer through the treatments and to the end when she is happy and relieved to have put the cancer behind her is highly rewarding.
While the reconstructive procedures the doctors perform help restore a woman’s physical and emotional well-being, the facility itself also provides a warm, comfortable, caring environment for the patients. Omega has a number of high quality amenities. Each patient gets her own room. There is a separate Murphy bed in the room for a spouse or family member to stay with the patient overnight. Allowing family members greater access to the patients after surgery facilitates the healing process by putting both the patients and their families more at ease. “Breast cancer affects everybody - not just the patient, but the whole family,” Dr. Wright said.
Instead of having to move to an intensive care unit post-surgery, which increases a patient’s anxiety (just the words “intensive care” can make people nervous), the patient has a room with more of a hotel vibe, with special robes, high speed Internet access, a mini-bar, a microwave, and a coffee maker. Instead of typically drab hospital cuisine, food from various New Orleans restaurants can be brought to the patients as well. If family members would like separate accommodations, Omega is happy to recommend hotels in the area. In addition to this, there is a small nurse-to-patient ratio (smaller than most hospitals), adding to the personal, pampering atmosphere. The goal is to make everything easier and more comfortable for the patient in a difficult time.
Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis will always be frightening. But it’s not a death sentence. Even women with incurable breast cancer are increasingly able to live longer and manage their disease. And for many, it can be detected early and eliminated, allowing patients to return to their lives. “There’s a tremendous amount of hope out there for breast cancer patients,” Dr. Wright said.
The Omega Hospital is located at 2525 Severn Ave. in Metairie. For more information, or to schedule an initial appointment, visit their website at www.omegahospital.com or call them at (504)832-4200 or 1-800-535-4177.
This article appears in the June 2012 issue of Health & Fitness Magazine
Photos courtesy of Abby Photo, LLC