Surgeons face life-changing challenges in episode five

The penultimate episode of BBC Two’s ‘Surgeons: At the Edge of Life’ shows theatre teams taking on two life changing challenges – one that will enable a pensioner to swallow again, and another to save a young mother’s sight.

surgeon Ekpemi Irune at work

The episode, at 9pm tomorrow (Thursday 9 Dec), features for the second time this series, leading head and neck surgeon Miss Ekpemi Irune (pictured) who treats more than 500 patients a year.

Her patient is 75-year-old Nancie who was successfully treated for cancer, but it left her unable to swallow and speak. Instead she must feed through a tube each night to get the nutrition she needs.

Ekpemi must perform a complex operation to remove her larynx and rebuild her oesophagus. She will need to carefully navigate around important blood vessels and nerves in Nancie’s neck to remove the larynx, which will leave a hole in her oesophagus.

To repair the hole, and to widen Nancie’s narrowed swallowing tube, her plastics colleague, consultant Nic Segaren, must take a flap of skin and tissue from Nancie’s arm, with a vein and artery attached, to use to reconstruct the oesophagus. This flap will be connected to vessels in Nancie’s neck for it to have a blood supply and keep it alive. It is precision work.

Addenbrooke’s is also a centre for complex neurosurgery and consultant Tom Santarius faces the daunting prospect of helping Gemma, who has a tumour growing between her brain and eye socket that needs to be removed as it’s threatening her sight.

An MRI scan reveals she has a meningioma spreading around the brain, invading bone and the orbit, pushing her right eye out of the socket. If left untreated it will eventually threaten her sight, and even her life. The operation is long, demanding and a tiny slip could cause blindness or a potentially fatal bleed.

Director of Surgery, James Wheeler, said: “In cases like these the margins for error are absolutely miniscule and I am immensely proud of the way our surgeons work with such precision and skill to give their patients the very best chance of the outcomes we all want.

“What we have seen throughout the series is amazing levels of dedication by theatres teams and others involved in the patient journey. Equally we have heard incredible stories of patient courage and fortitude."

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