Superior Service

Advanced technology eases journey for breast cancer patients.

Outside of fighting an occasional battle against diverticulitis, Kathleen Vitale was a true picture of health for the first 69 years of her life. The New Jersey native says she can’t even remember suffering from a bad cold or the flu during those years.

Thanks to the advanced technology at Manatee Memorial Hospital, Kathleen Vitale’s battle with breast cancer was easier than expected.

Kathleen Vitale

That healthy run of hers came to an end early in Year 70.

“I went in to get my yearly mammogram, and there was nothing that made me feel as if there was anything wrong,” Kathleen explains. “I couldn’t feel a lump or anything, but I got a call back the afternoon after I had it saying they’d found an abnormality.

“I went back a week later, and this time they took six more mammograms and an ultrasound and sent me home. Later that day, I got a call from my doctor, who told me there was definitely something abnormal in there and suggested
I see a surgeon.”

The surgeon Kathleen’s doctor recommended was Jose Erbella, MD, a board-certified Fellow of the American College of Surgeons whose specialties include performing laparoscopic surgery, weight loss surgery and cancer surgery.

During his initial examination of Kathleen, Dr. Erbella found a lump in her left breast that showed up clearly in ultrasound images. That prompted Dr. Erbella to perform a core needle biopsy, in which he obtained a sample of the mass from a needle inserted into the breast.

The core needle biopsy is a recommended diagnostic procedure that is performed anytime a patient presents with an abnormal mass appearing on a mammogram or ultrasound. After the biopsy is completed, the waiting begins.

Results in a Day

The period during which a core needle biopsy is delivered to the lab, tested and returned to the doctor with a diagnosis can be as long as two weeks, Dr. Erbella reports. For most patients, that can be a dreadfully stressful time.

“I have a choice of going to the other hospitals in the county, but Manatee Memorial Hospital is really the one that’s been super supportive of me and my patients through its breast cancer program.” -Dr. Erbella

That’s why Dr. Erbella sends all such biopsies to the diagnostic lab at Manatee Memorial Hospital, where the team of pathologists has the manpower and ability to test a sample and deliver the results back to the doctor within 24 hours.

“The pathologists at Manatee Memorial are really on top of it,” Dr. Erbella raves. “It’s not a matter of them having any greater technology than anyone else. It’s that they’re geared to make cancer diagnoses. They’re geared toward processing that tissue right away.

“It’s a wonderful service, and they test so many biopsies from around the county, but cancer diagnosis is their priority. And breast cancer diagnosis is their top priority, and with that, they can get us a result in a day.”

The result of Kathleen’s sample, which was taken from a mass the size of a pencil eraser, came back positive for breast cancer. When Kathleen learned the news just a day after first seeing Dr. Erbella, she was neither surprised nor scared by the diagnosis.

“When I got the call, my daughter was there, and she burst into tears and my husband got all upset, but I knew,” Kathleen reveals. “I’ve been getting mammograms for thirty years and have never gotten a call back on one, so I knew it was cancer.

“But when Dr. Erbella said cancer, I never felt that I was in any danger. I knew he would get it all and that I was going to be fine, because he is the kindest, most caring doctor I’ve ever seen. He just has a way of making you feel as if everything is going to be all right.”

Contributing to Kathleen’s confidence was the detailed diagnosis she received from Dr. Erbella, who explained that she had Stage 1 breast cancer, which is the earliest stage of development, and that it was easily treatable.

He also explained that as part of his attack plan, he would perform a lumpectomy at Manatee Memorial Hospital, where cancer surgeons have access to some of the most advanced technology available in the industry today.

State-of-the-Art Technology

“One of the great things about Manatee Memorial is that they’ve invested in ultrasound machines that allow surgeons to target the cancers in the operating room and remove them as part of an outpatient procedure,” Dr. Erbella informs.

“Those are two advantages that Kathleen had that still aren’t available in a lot of centers. In a lot of places even today, patients first need to go to radiology, and while they’re awake, they get wires put into their breasts to target the cancer.

“That technology has been around since the 1950s or 60s, and many surgeons still do their surgery this way, but you can imagine how uncomfortable it must be because the patient is awake and there’s a lot of pain and anxiety.

“So, there’s discomfort in getting this wire placed and then, after the wire is finally placed, the patient goes to surgery, which could be down the hall, on another floor or even in a different building, depending on the hospital.

“But at Manatee Memorial Hospital, they provide doctors with the technology that allows us to look at the cancer wirelessly with the ultrasound. Once we’ve found the cancer, we can do the surgery right there in the same room. It’s a painless process.”

The advantages of performing a lumpectomy at Manatee Memorial Hospital don’t end there, Dr. Erbella explains. A special lighting system is also available to surgeons inside the operating rooms that allows the patient to benefit from the results.

“They have invested in some very special lighted retractors. What these lighted retractors allow us to do is get into the breast through a very tiny incision along the nipple, which then allows us to hide the incision when we’re done with the operation.

“The other thing we have to do with cancer is we have to do a lymph node biopsy, and by going through that same tiny incision along the nipple, I can travel using these lighted retractors all the way up into the armpit area and biopsy the lymph nodes for her.

“So, what Kathleen got was this super deluxe surgery where we started with this very tiny incision through which we were able to remove the small cancer, biopsy the lymph glands and then hide the scar from the incision after we were done.”

Cancer Free

Kathleen was able to return home the very same day she had the surgery. She has since been deemed cancer free, but she has taken Dr. Erbella up on his recommendation that she undergo radiation therapy to lower the risk of a recurrence of the cancer.

Thanks to the advanced technology at Manatee Memorial Hospital, Kathleen Vitale’s battle with breast cancer was easier than expected.

The advanced technology available at Manatee Memorial Hospital helped ensure a positive outcome for Kathleen.

“I just can’t say enough great things about Dr. Erbella,” Kathleen raves. “He explained everything he was going to do, every sound I was going to hear and everything I was going to feel throughout the process.

“He even called me the night before the surgery and said, I’ll see you in the morning; you’re going to be fine; we’re going to take care of this. It was like he was patting me on the back the whole time.”

Dr. Erbella gives a pat on the back to the staff at Manatee Memorial Hospital as well. Without their services, he says, he never would have been able to diagnosis Kathleen’s cancer and treat her as quickly and effectively as he did.

“She’s a great example of how well we can take care of our mothers,
our daughters and our sisters through the great services that we have available to us at Manatee Memorial Hospital,” Dr. Erbella states. “That’s why I’m such a big fan of the hospital.

“I don’t work for the hospital. I’m not an employee there at all. I have a choice of going to the other hospitals in the county, but Manatee Memorial Hospital is really the one that’s been super supportive of me and my patients through its breast cancer program.”

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    • Manatee Memorial Hospital

      When it comes to choosing a hospital, one thing is clear: quality counts. Manatee Memorial Hospital has a long tradition of providing medical care in a comfortable and convenient environment each year for thousands of patients... Read More

    • Jose Erbella, MD

      Jose Erbella, MD, earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine and underwent surgical training at the University of Michigan and the University of Florida. Dr. Erbella received his medical degree with re... Read More