Over the years, Vojin Bozovich has had his fair share of surgeries. In the mid-1970s, he had an appendectomy. He had his gallbladder removed several years later. After each of these procedures, Bozovich had hernias, which also required surgery to repair. But when the hernias came back after surgery, Bozovich struggled with pain and worried that he would never have his hernias fixed for good. He put off having another hernia repair for years, until his family introduced him to Washington University hernia surgeon Jeffrey Blatnik, MD.
A hernia occurs when the intestines bulge through a weak spot in the abdominal wall. Incisional hernias are common after abdominal surgeries, like those used to remove the gallbladder or appendix, because the cuts used in surgery create areas of weakness in the abdominal muscles.
Other common causes for hernias include straining and lifting heavy weights. These kinds of activities put a lot of pressure on the abdomen, and intestines or tissue can push through weak parts of the muscle. When a hernia happens in the groin area, it is called an inguinal hernia.
“When I met with Mr. Bozovich, he had a midline incisional hernia and a right inguinal hernia,” says Dr. Blatnik. “The first step whenever I meet a new patient with a hernia complaint is getting a better understanding of their symptoms. What bothers them? What are they hoping to accomplish with surgery? How I can help them achieve their goals with the most durable repair in the least invasive way possible?”
The Pain Was Always There
Bozovich worked for years as a painter. His job involved constant physical activity and frequent heavy lifting, which contributed to his recurring hernia problems. A hernia can be incredibly painful. When Bozovich went to lift heavy materials at work, the pain and tenderness around his hernias was unbearable. In the past, Bozovich’s motivation for hernia repairs was to get back to work without the pain.
Now, in his 70s and retired, Bozovich simply wanted to be able to do simple things without worrying about how much his hernias would hurt him.
“Even when I was trying to do basic things around the house, the pain was always there,” Bozovich says. “Bending, lifting, coughing, sneezing. When you have this kind of pain all the time, it makes life harder.”
During his first appointment with Dr. Blatnik at the Washington University Hernia Center, Bozovich explained that he wanted both his hernias gone for good. Previous surgeries at other local hospitals had provided temporary relief, but the hernias came back every time. Bozovich hoped this would be his last hernia repair.
Less Invasive, More Durable
With those goals in mind, Dr. Blatnik worked with Bozovich and his family to develop a treatment plan.
“Mr. Bozovich had previous hernias repaired using open incisions. One of his concerns was about the pain and recovery time after traditional surgery,” says Dr. Blatnik. “Fortunately, we were able to address both his incisional hernia as well as his inguinal hernia in the same setting, with the same small incisions. We used a minimally invasive approach for this surgery, which helped improve his recovery and minimize his risk for issues around wound healing moving forward.”
Minimally invasive surgery, including laparoscopic and robotic techniques, uses smaller cuts than traditional open surgery. These types of surgery typically involve shorter hospital stays, less pain and quicker recovery times. The minimally invasive approach helped Dr. Blatnik perform a surgery that met Bozovich’s goals.
“The other important part of this surgery was the use of hernia mesh, which helps us create a more durable abdominal wall reconstruction,” says Dr. Blatnik. Surgical mesh is a medical device used in many hernia surgeries to strengthen the repair and reduce the risk of recurrence.
The Bigger Picture
“One of the things I really liked about Dr. Blatnik was the reassurance that he gave,” says Bozovich’s daughter, Danijela Bozovich. “He listened. He wanted to understand my dad’s history and the problems he had. He made sure we understood each step of the process and recovery. Dr. Blatnik is one of the most professional doctors I’ve ever interacted with.”
A few months before meeting with Dr. Blatnik, Bozivich had a pacemaker placed in his chest to help support his heartbeat. Bozovich and his family wanted to be sure he was ready for another surgery before he had his hernia repaired.
“Dr. Blatnik was able to navigate these other medical concerns, even consulting with Dad Bozovich’s cardiac team to ensure that his care was aligned,” says Bozovich’s son-in-law Ken Wamsley, the IT director for the Department of Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. When Bozovich decided it was time to have his hernias fixed once and for all, it was Ken who recommended Dr. Blatnik. “One benefit of receiving your care from WashU surgeons is their ability to communicate and align care across the hospital. Your surgeon is part of a larger team that’s there to handle any health issues along the way.”
This ability to coordinate care and see the bigger picture is essential to providing comprehensive, personalized hernia repair.
After the surgery, Dr. Blatnik met with Ken and Danijela to assure them the procedure had been successful. Bozovich’s hernia repair went smoothly, and after one day in the hospital, he went home to finish his recovery. Within a week, Bozovich was pain-free. He says that, when his stitches dissolved, it was like he hadn’t had surgery at all.
“I’m so glad I trusted Ken and my daughter,” says Bozovich. “Without their support, I may have waited even longer to have this problem fixed. Dr. Blatnik gave me the perfect repair.”
For Dr. Blatnik, fixing the problems of painful hernias is the most fulfilling part of being a surgeon.
“Patients come in with a set problem, and we can create a surgical plan that will address their problem and fix it, hopefully definitively, in a safe and effective way,” Dr. Blatnik says. “For me, the biggest satisfaction is when they come back later and we see that we’ve accomplished their goals. They are able to do the things they weren’t able to do before. Seeing that change is really what’s most satisfying.”
Danijela says the change in her father is night-and-day.
“I’ve been telling him for years to have his hernias repaired. He had a lot of pain, and he lived with that pain for too long,” she says. “I’ve seen my father go through all his surgeries, and the recovery time was usually very long and extensive. But after seeing Dr. Blatnik, he was up out of bed, walking and living a normal life without the pain in about a week. I’ll be grateful to Dr. Blatnik forever for doing that for my father.”
Bozovich was so satisfied with his surgery that he encouraged his wife to see Dr. Blatnik for a minor operation she’s been putting off for some time.
“If someone with a hernia was nervous about having surgery, I would tell them to go see Dr. Blatnik,” Bozovich says. “He’ll listen to your problems, discuss your options for surgery, and make sure everything goes right. Every person I know who needs surgery, I’m going to be sure to recommend Dr. Blatnik.”
To schedule an appointment with a surgeon from the Washington University Hernia Center, please call 314-362-9000 of fill out an online appointment form.