Thanksgiving hasn’t always been Jessica Griesbach’s favorite holiday. But this year is much different. Jessica suffered from a congenital defect of her intestines that has caused digestive troubles her whole life. From colic as an infant to nausea and pain so severe she often ended up in the emergency room, Jessica’s condition – undiagnosed until last year – made enjoying food difficult.
That all changed beginning in March 2016. That’s when a CT scan in her home state of Georgia revealed intestinal malrotation, a condition in which the intestines are not in the correct anatomical position in the abdomen. In Jessica’s case, her large intestine was pushed so far up into her abdomen that it reached her sixth rib. It also was pressing on her spinal column, causing chronic back pain.
Besides causing incredible discomfort, intestinal malrotation can be life-threatening. Patients with Jessica’s condition are a high risk for bowel obstruction and intestinal death requiring transplantation.
Fortunately, Jessica was proactive in seeking the best possible solution. She searched extensively for more information on the web, where she learned from a Facebook group that an innovative surgery, performed by only one surgeon in the country, could potentially cure her.
In an 8-hour procedure in August, Kareem Abu-Elmagd, MD, a member of Cleveland Clinic's Transplant Center surgery team, performed the intricate procedure that involved removing Jessica’s entire intestine, rebuilding the abdominal wall and replacing the intestine in its anatomically correct position.
“I am so grateful to the entire team of Cleveland Clinic caregivers who helped me, from physicians and nurses, to the people who brought me my meals and cleaned my room. Every single one of them played a role in my recovery."
Jessica says she knew the surgery had been successful the minute she woke up. The intense back pain she had learned to live with was gone. After her first meal in the hospital – a hamburger and mashed potatoes – she says she felt normal for the first time.
“The relief is miraculous,” says the young mother, who is now home looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner with family. “I am so grateful to the entire team of Cleveland Clinic caregivers who helped me, from physicians and nurses, to the people who brought me my meals and cleaned my room. Every single one of them played a role in my recovery. I can’t thank them all enough.”
But she is especially thankful for Dr. Abu-Elmagd, who she says is the first doctor who listened to her and was completely committed to making her better. “He’s also brilliant and skilled and compassionate and genuinely kind,” she says. “Cleveland Clinic is at the top of my list of what I am thankful for this year.”
Digestive Disease & Surgery Institute