Hernia Center at Northwest Hospital gives hernia patient new life

Hernia patient photo

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For years, Larry Neufeld was forbidden from lifting much more than a finger. A suspected hernia had caused his doctor to severely restrict his physical activity. It also severely restricted his life; Larry had never once picked up any of his four young grandchildren.

Meanwhile, the same issue was causing chronic blockages in his intestine. Every few months Larry had to survive on a liquid diet. After three surgeries failed to give him relief, the specialists he saw in Tacoma said there was nothing more they could do.

“I couldn’t do anything or go anywhere,” said Larry, 71. “My life felt so limited.”

Frustrated, Larry’s physician had referred him to what he called the “Cadillac of care” in the region: the UW Medicine Hernia Center. There, Dr. Robert Yates realized the issue wasn’t a hernia but a complication stemming from the previously-attempted hernia repairs that was causing narrowing of his intestine. Dr. Yates booked him for an operation at Northwest Hospital that he felt would correct the problem. And Larry’s life changed radically for the better.

Today, Larry cheerfully hefts whichever grandchild runs fastest into his arms and eats whatever he wants. “It was very emotional the first time my grandchildren came running out to say hello and I could pick them up,” Larry said. “That drove home the new quality of life Dr. Yates had given me.”

The UW Medicine Hernia Center is the only clinic in the Pacific Northwest that focuses exclusively on the broad spectrum of hernias. “Our patients truly benefit from a comprehensive surgical team that’s dedicated to managing every aspect of hernias day in and day out,” Dr. Yates said. “As a physician, seeing Larry get his life back is the biggest reward we can have.”

Hernias and hernia-related issues can be complex, Yates said. Larry’s case definitely was. His entire colon had been removed 40 years ago due to his ulcerative colitis. As part of the procedure, the surgeon made a small hole in his abdominal wall called a stoma, a procedure that routinely accompanies removal of the entire colon. A hernia around the stoma (parastomal hernia) is a common complication of this procedure, and Larry experienced one about 10 years ago. He had three surgeries over several years to correct the hernia.

But what ultimately happened, Dr. Yates realized, was those repairs had caused a narrowing around his stoma. That was the issue causing Larry’s chronic bowel blockages. Fortunately, Dr. Yates was able to correct the narrowing and reconstruct his abdominal wall to prevent future hernia recurrences.

As both a patient and in his professional life, Larry has spent plenty of time in hospitals. Both he and his wife were impressed by Dr. Yates and how his team interacted.

“I’m a pastor, and I pay attention to how people treat others,” Larry said. “I’ve seen more than one doctor be rude to his staff. But Dr. Yates treats everyone with respect.”

Lately, Larry struggles with a new foe: weight gain. If there was a silver lining to getting blockages every few months, it was that he didn’t have to to worry about an extra few pounds. Today Larry says he’s about 30 pounds heavier than he’d like to be. “Like the rest of the world, I now have to worry about my diet.”

It’s a burden he’s happy to carry.

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