Lifewatch: Out of body surgery

Reported by Claire Hosmann - email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

NEW YORK, NY (WECT) - It's a medical first - operating outside the body.

Every year, almost 1.5 million Americans are told they have cancer.

Some are told their tumor is too difficult to remove, but one group of surgeons has opened a new door by taking the word inoperable out of the equation.

Brooke Zepp loves to travel, and in 2007 she was planning a trip around the world when she got devastating news.

"I never dreamed I'd have cancer, and when they told me I had a mass, I said, 'Okay, so just take it out,'" said Zepp.

But taking out the tumor could kill her, because it was buried in the vessels that bring blood to her abdominal organs.

Doctors predicted she would have six months to live.

"When they told me they couldn't treat me, that was the worst moment of my life," said Zepp.

In her search for answers, Zepp found surgeon Tomoaki Kato.

"The only treatment that can cure the tumor was to remove it," said Dr. Kato with Columbia University.

To get to Zepp's tumor, he'd have to remove six of her organs.  In a world's first, Zepp's stomach, pancreas, liver, spleen, small intestine, and most of her large intestine were taken out simultaneously.

"She had nothing in her body. It's essentially organ-less," said Kato.

While Zepp's organs were outside of her body, surgeons cut away the tumor and replaced her cancerous blood vessels with artificial ones.  Her organs were put back in and reconnected.

"I think there's a good chance this is a cure," said Kato.

The surgery could have killed her, but the alternative wasn't much better.

"I was desperate. I really wanted the surgery so badly," said Zepp.

Now, Zepp is cancer-free.  It has been a slow recovery, but Zepp is back to planning her trip around the world.

Zepp's cancer was a rare type of sarcoma.  Nine doctors worked on her body during the 15-hour procedure.

This surgery could pave the way as a new treatment for many inoperable tumors.