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Diana: A Formal Breakthrough


A revolutionary procedure at Rady Children’s made it possible for Diana Barlow to attend her prom just five days after an appendectomy.

Senior prom is a rite of passage. Young men and women dress up in gowns and tuxedos. Dates may give each other a floral wrist corsage or boutonniere. Teenage girls carry a small handbag for their cell phone and lip gloss.

Unfortunately for Diana Barlow, she couldn’t be discreet and hide the incentive spirometer she carried with her to prom on May 8, 2010. The High Tech High Media Arts senior needed a handbag the size of a grocery sack to tote this medical device that allowed her to breathe deeply and keep her lungs clear.

Her family was holding their collective breath, too. Just five days earlier, she underwent an appendectomy at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego. Her parents and younger brothers didn’t think they would see their vivacious Diana attend prom at The Abbey with her sweetheart, Anthony.

But Diana’s surgery was not an ordinary appendectomy. Her surgeon, Timothy Fairbanks, M.D., performs the procedure in an entirely new way — an approach known as single-port surgery. Diana’s appendix was removed by creating one entrance, or “port,” through a small incision in the belly button.

“Think of it like building a ship in a bottle,” Dr. Fairbanks said.

The procedure is also called “scarless surgery” since it leaves little to no scar. One big advantage with scarless surgeries, Dr. Fairbanks explained, is that a 17-year-old just ready to go off to college does not have to look down at their abdominal scar every day. He added that scars create memories of how bad the child or teen felt.

Diana can attest to the lack of anxiety over her scar. Looking at her belly button is a reminder of just that — a belly button.

As appendectomies are one of the most common procedures for kids, single-port surgery can help hundreds of children a year.

“Scarless surgery has long been the Holy Grail of surgery,” Dr. Fairbanks said. With scarless surgeries, the search is over.

The first single-port surgery performed by Dr. Fairbanks at Rady Children’s was on Oct. 1, 2009. To date, he has performed 164 surgeries and hopes to publish data from his yearlong experience with the procedure. Single-port surgery is not limited to the appendix only; spleens, gallbladders and colons can also be removed using this groundbreaking approach.

Dr. Fairbanks and his colleagues at Rady Children’s share their techniques and expertise as faculty members at the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego). This past summer, he taught a class at UC San Diego on single-port surgeries. Learning about this procedure during a fellowship in Philadelphia, he performed 27 single-port surgeries and decided to continue his work with this innovative technique when he moved to San Diego.

For Diana, now 18, the surgery could not have gone better. She added that the Hospital food was “awesome,” noting that her favorite meal was a grilled-cheese sandwich.

Her biggest worry as she recovered, just days before prom, was if she could fit into her dream dress. It was tight-fitting and the single-port procedure left her a bit bloated. Her Plan B dress was a borrowed pageant gown, but she didn’t have to resort to it. Diana, her beloved dress, boyfriend Anthony and her trusty incentive spirometer made it to The Abbey on time.

Diana has her eyes set on attending the University of California, Los Angeles as a pre-med major, then medical school. “I’m hoping to reach my goal of becoming a doctor and helping patients of my own,” she said.

The San Diego Union-Tribune Kids’ Newsday, October 2010