Expanded chest, lung services at Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital means less travel for patients

50-plus complex thoracic surgeries performed in McHenry since 2022 expansion

When McHenry resident Tina Klasek was diagnosed with bladder cancer last year, a large mass was also found in front of her heart.

Before the expansion of Chicago-based Northwestern Medicine’s Canning Thoracic Institute to Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital in 2022, the 66-year-old mother of two and grandmother of six would have had to travel to downtown Chicago for surgery.

Instead, she was able to receive the surgery at the McHenry hospital less than 10 minutes away from her home, she said.

When you’re going through an illness and getting chemo you constantly have doctor appointments and tests at different places, and the last thing you need is to have to do more traveling and make more arrangements.

Despite the size of the tumor, the thoracic surgery team was able to remove it with four tiny incisions through a minimally invasive robotic approach, said Dr. Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery at Northwestern Medicine and director of the Canning Institute.

While the tumor was behind the breastbone, there was no major cutting of muscles or bone, just the incisions that are the size of a fingerprint, Bharat said.

Thankfully, the tumor ended up being benign, but the experience could have been worse and with much more added distress, which wouldn’t have been good for her health, Klasek said.

“When you’re going through an illness and getting chemo you constantly have doctor appointments and tests at different places, and the last thing you need is to have to do more traveling and make more arrangements,” Klasek said.

Since the 2022 expansion, more than 50 complex thoracic surgeries have been performed at the McHenry hospital, according to Northwestern Medicine officials. The Canning Institute also provides diagnostic testing and treatment services for other pulmonary and respiratory conditions.

“The goal is to not just do thoracic surgeries but to provide excellent care,” Bharat said.

Being committed to a community means assessing its needs and Bharat said there are many smokers in the county. Lung cancer doesn’t cause problems until it’s bad, Bharat said, so he strongly recommends smokers get screened.

“A small decision can make the difference for many more years in a life,” Bharat said.

He wants more people to realize screenings can save lives and any problems related to the lung and chest have better outcomes with early detection.

Based on data from the county’s Healthy Community Study conducted in 2021, it was estimated that 15.2% of adults here smoke cigarettes.

Nationally, an estimated 12.5% of adults smoked cigarettes in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s about 30.8 million people or nearly 13 out of every 100 adults.

“You never want to be above the national average,” said Felicia Fuller of the American Lung Association.

The director of health promotions for Illinois and Wisconsin said those who are aged 50 to 80 should get screened for lung cancer annually. Anyone who smokes should too.

“If McHenry County has access to lung cancer screenings nearby, that’s very important,” Fuller said. “Anytime you reduce barriers and provide access to treatment you could save lives.”

Fuller said for many, having to take off work to travel to a doctor appointment or wait a long time to even schedule an appointment is a big barrier for medical care.

Back to playing with her grandchildren and enjoying time with her husband of 46 years, Klasek said she is comforted knowing there’s a qualified team just minutes away, should she need to reach out again.

“The whole process was smooth, and despite Dr. Bharat’s busy schedule, he took the time to explain my situation to me in a professional, yet understandable manner,” Klasek said. “He’s so professional, and as a human being, he’s very sympathetic.”

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