Julie Secoura (UM BWMC)

Julie Secoura with Dr. Cherif Boutros

Julie Secoura with Dr. Cherif Boutros

Cherif Boutros, MD, steps up to a scrub sink in UM Baltimore Washington Medical Center’s surgical suite.

The surgical oncologist turns on the water and begins vigorously scrubbing his hands and forearms with antimicrobial soap.

During the pre-surgery ritual, he reviews details of his next case.

Patient: Julie Secoura, 52 years old.

Diagnosis: Cancerous tumor in her sigmoid colon.

Procedure: Laparoscopic low anterior resection.

Dr. Boutros, who is chairman of surgical oncology, medical director of the Tate Cancer Center and assistant professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, enters the operating room. There, Secoura is still awake. Dr. Boutros talks with her before she receives anesthesia, reassuring her that she will be dancing at her son’s wedding just two months from now.

“While this is a little piece of colon and a common procedure, we are aware it is not routine for our patients,” he says.

Secoura smiles. She knows Dr. Boutros is a skilled and well-respected surgeon – one who has performed hundreds of complex cancer surgeries. She trusts him.

After Secoura receives general anesthesia, the minimally invasive procedure begins.

Dr. Boutros makes five tiny incisions around Secoura’s abdomen. Using a slender, lighted telescope, he locates the tumor. Next, Dr. Boutros slowly and carefully removes the tumor through the tiny incisions, as well as an inch of tissue on each side of it. Healthy tissue is left untouched.

To keep Secoura’s organ functioning, Dr. Boutros then reattaches the detached section to her remaining colon.

By 2:30 p.m. the procedure is done. Dr. Boutros checks on Secoura in the post-anesthesia care unit. She is alert and talking. A good sign, the nurses say.

After talking with Secoura’s family members, Dr. Boutros heads back to the scrub sink. It’s time for his next case.

Advanced Technology for Specialized Treatment

UM BWMC’s 17-room surgical suite is home to everything from complex neurosurgery and orthopaedic procedures to robotic and minimally invasive surgeries for cancer and gynecologic, urologic and thoracic issues.

The rooms feature state-of-the-art technology, including multiple high definition monitors where surgeons can see surgical sites, images like CT scans, vital signs and even live lab results.

“Thanks to this technology, we’re able to do more complex cases,” says Joyce Myers, R.N. director of perioperative nursing.

Cases like Secoura’s are performed in a 700-square-foot operating room, designed specifically for minimally invasive procedures.

A Personal Approach to Care

Secoura discovered she had cancer after a routine colonoscopy in 2013. She never had any symptoms.

“I thought, ‘How could that have been growing in there and I didn’t know it?’” she says.

In need of answers, Secoura turned to Dr. Boutros.

“He talked to me for almost two hours,” Secoura says. “I had a list of questions two pages long. He answered them all.”

Dr. Boutros answered many of those questions again the following week, when Secoura brought two family members with her.

“His confidence and kindness put you at ease,” Secoura says. “He uses humor and analogies to help you understand his explanations.  He just has a wonderful manner.”

Dr. Boutros is known for his innovate surgeries. In 2012, he performed the hospital’s first robotic-assisted Whipple procedure – a rare treatment for early-stage pancreatic cancer. In 2013, he performed the state’s first robotic-assisted esophagectomy – surgery to remove all or part of the esophagus.

By using robotic-assisted, laparoscopic and other minimally invasive procedures, surgeons can make smaller incisions, Dr. Boutros says. And with smaller incisions come smaller scars, fewer complications and a faster recovery.

Still, the surgeon is only part of the patient’s healthcare team.

At the Tate Cancer Center’s Digestive Health Center, a multidisciplinary group of surgical, medical and radiation oncologists, as well as dieticians, pain management specialists, social workers and genetic counselors, come up with the most advanced and effective treatment plans for patients like Secoura.

“They’re not being treated by just one physician,” Dr. Boutros says. “They’re being treated by an entire team.”

For Secoura, that team approach, combined with Dr. Boutros’s surgical expertise, is what got her back on her feet just one day after her surgery.

Two months later, she made it to her son’s wedding.

“And I danced the whole time,” she says.