For as long as she could remember, Marie Hess’ life had been impacted by gastrointestinal issues. Diagnosed with both irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulitis, she found herself in and out of the hospital for many years. Finally, at the age of 87, it became clear to her that the only long-term solution was surgery to remove her colon. Then she ran into another challenge. “The doctor I was seeing wasn’t very encouraging,” says Hess. “He didn’t want to operate on me because of my age. But I wanted to do whatever it would take to get better, even if that meant a risky surgery. I realized I needed to find a new doctor.”
She turned to P. Jeffrey Ferris, MD, a colorectal surgeon at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, for a second opinion—one that turned out to be a lot more promising. “I liked Dr. Ferris immediately,” Hess says. “He explained there were certainly risks involved with having surgery at my age, but he also pointed out that every surgery comes with risks. He wanted to help me, regardless of my age. He made me feel confident that he could fix the problem.”
Dr. Ferris notes that special considerations must be taken when evaluating elderly patients and determining if they are viable candidates for surgery. As people age, their risk for complications in the operating room and throughout the recovery process goes up. “There is a great responsibility that comes along with making the decision to operate on a patient and incur the risks that go along with it,” Dr. Ferris explains. “Surgeons must establish a high level of trust with the patient and family in a short amount of time. Part of my job is to make sure they are aware of the risks, as they consider their options and make important medical decisions.”
Hess’ surgery took more than seven hours to complete, but went well. She left the hospital with Dr. Ferris’ personal cell phone number, just in case she needed to reach him urgently, and a fresh, new perspective on what life could look like, moving forward. “He saved my life,” says Hess. “I’ve not had a minute’s problem since then.”
A few months after her surgery, Hess’ husband, Dale, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His illness was extremely aggressive, and just four months later he passed away. Having the ability to care for her husband during his time of need made Hess and her family even more grateful for the care she received. “I am thankful to this day that I was strong and well enough to take care of Dale when he got sick,” Hess notes.
These days, Hess enjoys quiet days at home with knitting, reading, and cooking being a few of her favorite hobbies. But her best days are the ones when her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren come bustling through the door, to spend time with their “Nan.” “Family is everything” she adds. “I am very grateful that I am still here to be with the people I love.”
Dr. Ferris says that Hess’ personal story is a good example of the type of personalized, collaborative care patients can expect to receive when they choose the Center for Digestive Disease at MedStar Franklin Square. “Ms. Hess has reached out to us a few times following her surgery to express her appreciation,” says Dr. Ferris. “It’s heartwarming when we receive these messages from our patients and their families, and we are happy that our work has given Marie more good time to spend with her family.”
For a physician referral, please call 855-546-0794.
MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center
Center for Digestive Disease
9000 Franklin Square Drive
Baltimore, MD 21237