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Appendectomy Advantage

By: Cherlene Richards

Most people figure that once the pain of appendicitis strikes, an operation to remove the offending organ can't be far off.

But that's not always the case. Friday, a four-year-old Brookings boy had his appendix removed, more than a month after it ruptured.

Even after more than a month of battling the threat of a potentially-deadly case of appendicitis, nothing can stop four-year-old Dustin Smith from enjoying himself even as his doctor prepares to put him under the knife. That may be because, unlike the more traditional operation, Dustin's appendix is going to come out laprascopically using several small incisions and a scope to monitor and remove the organ.

"It's going be a faster recovery. They can get back to normal, kids don't understand sitting still,” Shawna Smith, Dustin’s mom, said.

What's also unusual about Dustin's appendectomy is that his doctors have been waiting more than a month to take his inflamed appendix out. When he first got sick, doctors chose to give him antibiotics to prevent a life-threatening infection.

“It was a long haul, taking the antibiotics for three weeks and then he had to take them again for another two weeks,” Shawna said.

But even weeks of potent pills can't completely cure the possibility that Dustin's appendix could still rupture, which is why robotic surgery is the best option.

"With laparoscopy, the biggest incisions in the belly button, which you'll never, ever see. And the other incisions are so small they pretty much go away as well," Dr. Jon Ryckman with Sanford Children’s Hospital said.

The surgical scope goes in through the belly button. And once inside, the tiny camera allows doctors an insider's view of the appendix they intend to remove.

"The old-fashioned way in children was a standard open appendectomy and I'd say, probably over the past five to 10 years, pediatric surgeons have moved to the laparoscopic approach,” Dr. Ryckman said.

"There's just too much infection and it was a little bit more risky to do it that way," Shawna said.

Dustin's appendix is out and his infection risk removed in less than 20 minutes. And as a result this four-year-old will be back to enjoying himself again in no time.

Dustin won't be spending the night in the hospital; he was sent home Friday afternoon. His doctors expect he'll be up and running around again by early next week.

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