It was not until he was 77 years old that award-winning timber farmer, Bobby Jennings of Lafayette, Ala., decided it was time to have his first colonoscopy. A friend recommended he have the procedure and Jennings reluctantly set up an appointment with his doctor. It was during this procedure that Greg Gilbert, M.D., a local gastroenterologist, noticed several hernias blocking the colon. Due to the blockage, Dr. Gilbert was only able to perform a partial colonoscopy.
Dr. Gilbert referred Jennings to a general surgeon, Steve Lock, M.D., of the Surgical Clinic, PC, in Opelika, and he was soon scheduled for a hernia repair.
A hernia is a weakness or tear in the wall of the abdomen. The tear often results from years of wear on the tissues. This was most likely the cause for Jennings, who has always led an active lifestyle, often lifting heavy objects. “I could feel it for 10 years,” Jennings says. “I never did anything about it. I felt a burning sensation sometimes and noticed a bulge but did not want to go to the doctor.”
According to Dr. Lock, many patients will notice a bulge or experience pain lifting or coughing for many years before seeing a doctor. Unfortunately, this can cause problems if the hernia progresses.
Jennings had two hernia repairs in March of this year—a bilateral inguinal hernia, which occurs at the groin and is the most common hernia for men; and an umbilical hernia, which occurs at the naval.
“I was lucky,” Jennings says when remembering the time prior to his hernia procedure. Had he left the hernia untouched, it would have eventually become strangulated. A strangulated hernia occurs when the intestine becomes trapped by a blockage, loses blood supply, and may die.
Dr. Lock performed an outpatient laparoscopic hernia repair on both of Jennings’ hernias and Jennings was able to walk and perform normal tasks the same day.
Jennings remembers many years ago when his own father was admitted to EAMC for a hernia operation that was painful and left him bedridden for several days. Now, because of laparoscopic procedures and more advanced methods, Jennings felt almost no pain after his surgery and was able to resume his normal activities immediately.
“Most hernia repairs are now done via laparoscopy,” states Dr. Lock. Hernia procedures are constantly evolving and can now be performed with little discomfort to the patient. The physicians at the Surgical Clinic, PC, attend many seminars and are continually educating themselves to keep up with the latest methods of hernia repair. “With any operation, there will be some pain,” Dr. Lock explains. “But with modern hernia repairs there is less discomfort and fewer recurrence rates as well.”
The greatest challenge for an outdoorsman such as Jennings was post-surgery lifestyle adjustments. Limiting the amount of weight he lifted to no more than 10 to 15 pounds was difficult. A lifelong farmer, he was accustomed to lifting 150-pound bags of seed and fertilizer. “I was immediately able to walk after my hernia repair,” Jennings says. “But I have had to make a significant adjustment to daily activities in order to not tear my repairs.”
Dr. Lock says limiting heavy lifting (anything more than 15 pounds) is the key to having a successful hernia repair and avoiding recurrences. “It takes many months for the body to heal,” says Dr. Lock. “During that time, patients recovering from hernia operations should put forth the effort to not strain or damage the repair because that is what causes recurrences.”
Unfortunately, hernias cannot be avoided, but the key to returning to normal life quickly after a hernia repair and not having a more serious operation is early detection and treatment.
For Jennings, spending more than 30 years building a legacy as an award-winning timber farmer, and preserving his ability to oversee every aspect of his more than 1,700-acre forestland, was very important to him. Having his hernia repair was a minimally invasive procedure that has allowed him to maintain his active farming lifestyle with little changes to his daily activities.
“I was fortunate because Dr. Lock took care of my hernias before they started to affect my lifestyle more seriously,” Jennings says. “I love spending time with my family and great-grandchildren. The great doctors at EAMC have provided me the opportunity to continue my work on my land and spend time with my family. My family and I have always used EAMC and they have always been great; I owe them a lot.”
Anyone can develop a hernia. They can be congenital hernias (present since birth), or as the result of years of wear that weakens the tissues, sometimes as a result of heavy lifting or prolonged coughing. Most hernias are not life-threatening.
A hernia will never heal on its own. Surgery is needed to repair the damage to the wall of tissue that has torn. There are different methods to repair your hernia and your doctor will discuss the best method for you after assessing your case individually.