A hospital operating room may seem an unusual place for relationships to flourish.
Not so for three women surgeons at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, now part of Jefferson Health, whose professional and personal camaraderie have created a special connection that earns praise from patients – and benefits the doctors as well.
“It leads to moments where we can do things differently, come up with a solution as a team that may be a better outcome for the patient,” says Swathi Vanguri, MD, a gynecological surgeon.
Her colleagues include Laura Greco, MD, a colorectal surgeon, and Catherine Schermer, MD, a general surgeon. The group is expanding to include Yarini Quezada, MD, a urogynecological surgeon who joined in October.
The surgeons consult on cases, refer patients to each other, work together in the operating room when a patient needs more than one procedure, and provide each other functional support while they focus on providing patients the best possible care.
“We’re usually available to help each other out and we work together and communicate really well,” Dr. Greco says.
Dr. Schermer agrees: “It’s a collegial group of women.”
The surgeons are parents as well as professionals, which is another bond between them.
”It’s so important for women in male-dominated fields, especially those who are moms and have to deal not only with a high-stress job, but who have kids at home, to support each other through a shared experience,” Dr. Greco says.
They even have a nickname: The Squad.
The name was inspired by a lecturer Dr. Vanguri heard at a conference who said a gynecological surgeon needs a team of subspecialty surgeons so the sum, or the whole, can be greater than its parts. “I thought, ‘I already have that,’” she says.
The speaker also referenced an animated TV series about a group of space defenders called The Voltron Squad, which inspired Dr. Vanguri to label the team “The Squad.”
There’s no reason a patient who needs reproductive surgery needs to go anywhere else.”Dr. Swathi Vanguri
Dr. Vanguri got another gratifying insight when speakers from high-profile medical institutions made presentations about their cutting-edge surgical procedures.
“I realized we already do them here,” Dr. Vanguri says. “There’s no reason a patient who needs reproductive surgery needs to go anywhere else.”
For instance, Dr. Vanguri performs hysterectomies, removes fibroids and does ovarian and other gynecological surgeries through a novel procedure called vNOTES, in which the laparoscope is inserted through the vagina, not through an abdominal incision.
A patient has no external scars and recovers more quickly.
Dr. Vanguri says she’s one of only a few hundred gynecological surgeons in the country certified to practice vNOTES, which stands for vaginal natural orifice transluminal endoscopic surgery.
Dr. Vanguri cited a case in which she performed a robotic hysterectomy and Dr. Greco then performed a resection of the patient’s colon through the same incision. If the surgeries had been done separately, the patient would have needed a larger, second incision.
“We were able to use our combined skills,” Dr. Vanguri says. “That’s how the sum, or the whole, is greater than its parts.”
The surgeons can perform minimally invasive and robotic procedures even for patients who’ve been told elsewhere they only qualified for open abdomen surgeries, including those who have severe obesity or an unusually large uterus.
“Recovery was great. I’d tell anyone to get this procedure.”Patient Melissa Llewellyn after her vNOTES surgery
Melissa Llewellyn’s adenomyosis – in which endometrial tissue in the lining of the uterus grew into the muscular wall – caused such severe pain during menstruation that she would throw up.
“When I had my period, the pain was so great, it was like having contractions,” she says. “It was constant.”
When Llewellyn consulted with Dr. Vanguri about a hysterectomy, she says, “I expected the traditional way; I was going to have an incision.”
Instead, she had a vNOTES procedure, because a quicker recovery meant she could sooner restart medication for rheumatoid arthritis she’d have to stop taking for surgery.
“Recovery was great,” Llewellyn says. “I’d tell anyone to get this procedure.”
Patient Angela Ferraioli had uterine fibroids and bled so heavily during her periods that she always wore dark clothing so if she bled through – which she sometimes did, to her horror, in public – it wouldn’t be visible.
She missed work, endured very painful sex, and “my quality of life was really challenging,” she says.
On Dec. 16, Ferraioli had her uterus removed with a vNOTES surgery. She went home the next day.
“I was driving a week later and back to lifting weights eight weeks later. It has been an absolutely amazing experience.
“I’m just so grateful to Dr. Vanguri for the surgery she performed,” Ferraioli says. “It gave me back my life.”
To learn more, or to schedule an appointment, visit JeffersonHealth.org/GYNSurgery or call 1-800-JEFF-NOW.