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Back in the driver’s seat

Walter Griffin prizes this 1968 American Motors Javelin SST, which he and his daughter Shelby, who died in 2010, fixed up and raced.

Thanks to fast action and robotic surgery Walter Griffin beat colon cancer

Walter Griffin has always loved fast cars, and he’s indulged this fondness with a long, successful history as a winning drag-car racer. Today, this 67-year-old Mustoe area, Virginia, resident still drives the course, giving those half his age accelerated competition. (His cheering section includes his wife, Bobbie, and daughter and son-in-law, Sheryl and Matt Lindsey. Another daughter, Shelby, passed away.) Given his need for speed, it’s no surprise that he admires his doctor Kristin C. Turza, MD, for swiftly and expertly handling his colon cancer diagnosis. “She’s a wonderful person,” Griffin extols. “I felt pretty special — but I think she’s like that with everyone. Her patients matter tremendously to her.”

A win in record time

Dr. Turza, a colorectal surgeon and robotic surgery specialist, first met Griffin during a routine colonoscopy screening. That’s when she identified polyps in his colon. “Polyps can turn into cancer, so I kept a close watch on him. Walter had a colonoscopy more often than most,” Dr. Turza explains.

During Griffin’s colonoscopy in 2016, Dr. Turza found a suspicious polyp, which she tried to remove with the colonoscopy scope. However, the polyp’s positioning prevented total removal — and that concerned the doctor.

“We opted for robotic surgery to remove the small section of Walter’s colon where I found the suspicious polyp,” Dr. Turza recalls. “I felt comfortable with robotic surgery because it’s minimally invasive and there are fewer risks for the patient — which was critical in Walter’s case. He has multiple medical problems, including coronary artery disease and diabetes. Having access to robotic surgical equipment made an important difference,” Dr. Turza says.

A postsurgery biopsy confirmed cancer in the small section of colon that Dr. Turza removed. “Fortunately, because of the colonoscopy, we found Walter’s cancer so early — and acted on it so quickly — that it hadn’t spread. We got it all! And he doesn’t need further therapy, like chemo or radiation,” Dr. Turza says.

What’s it all about?

The Augusta Health Robotic Surgery Program pivots around the da Vinci Xi® Surgical System, which delivers minimally invasive, robotic-assisted surgery that represents the latest and most advanced technology available. The da Vinci is used for surgeries for the cardiac, colorectal, gynecologic, thoracic and urologic systems.

Considered the standard of care for many conditions, robotic surgery involves a specially trained surgeon who is seated at a console while viewing a magnified, high-definition, 3-D image of the area that is the focus of the operation. Aided by a specially trained and credentialed team of nurses, anesthesiologists and surgical techs, the surgeon places the interactive robotic arms, which hold the surgical tools, through a small incision.

The benefits of robotic surgery are many, including a smaller incision, shorter hospital stay, quicker healing time, as well as less pain, blood loss and need for narcotic pain medications. The combined advantages reduce overall patient risks for infection or complications.

While Dr. Turza and Griffin are confident that all cancer cells were removed, neither is taking any chances. “Dr. Turza has me coming in for a follow-up colonoscopy every six months, and then we’ll go to once a year,” Griffin says. “I trust her judgment. She’s one of a kind.”

To schedule a colonoscopy, call the Augusta Health Colon Clinic Scheduler at (540) 332-5526.