Breast Reconstruction & Unique Shoulder Surgery Transform a Woman’s Life
Howell Township, NJ, ICU Nurse Treated by Dr. Andrew Elkwood of The Institute for Advanced Reconstruction
Jeannine Sico is not your average breast reconstruction surgery patient. In addition to her cancer, she struggled with a non-functional shoulder that forced her retirement from her job as an ICU (intensive care unit) nurse.
“Right now, I’m the least important person to you in your life. Your oncologist and your breast surgeon control what’s happening. But five years from now, when you’re sitting next to the pool having a cocktail and your cancer is behind you, you’ll consider your new breasts and stomach, then I’ll be important.” Dr. Elkwood
But finding Dr. Andrew Elkwood of The Institute for Advanced Reconstruction at The Plastic Surgery Center in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, changed all that. Sico, a 50-year-old mother of three from Howell Township, New Jersey, was referred to Dr. Elkwood for breast reconstruction surgery. She attended that first appointment in her $1,500 mechanical shoulder brace, which, she says, she “wore every day of my life.” And all her doctors told her she would wear that brace for the rest of her life. Sico, who worked for 17 years at Jersey Shore University Medical Center (JSUMC), contracted MRSA*. It ate away at the back of her neck, resulting in a mind-boggling eight cervical neck surgeries (five were related to MRSA) in an attempt to repair the subsequent damage.
Dr. Elkwood, also a brachial plexus specialist and expert surgeon, noticed the brace, asked her about it, and told her that in addition to breast reconstruction, he could address her shoulder problem as well.
On Oct. 6, 2014, Elkwood was part of a team of surgeons who performed a double mastectomy, breast reconstruction with a TRAM flap using Dr. Elkwood’s signature Bony Anchored Reinforcement (BARs), which he pioneered, to preserve and strengthen the abdominal area; a hysterectomy; and shoulder surgery. Dr. Elkwood reanimated her shoulder to help it function again after it was rendered partially paralyzed by the MRSA and its necessary treatment. The entire operation, done at JSMC and staffed by some of Sico’s former co-workers, took eight and a half hours.
Particularly as a medical professional herself, Sico has a grasp of exceptional medical care.
“Especially having worked in a surgical ICU, I certainly observed Dr. Elkwood and his staff provide superior care,” she said. “I cannot say enough wonderful things about him. Dr. Elkwood is an amazing surgeon. He truly cares about patients, and his goal is to have them function at a normal level. He genuinely wants to help people, and you can see and feel that. He takes care of many breast cancer patients, but on my first visit, he was thrilled and enthusiastic to work with me. He was kind and compassionate about my breast cancer reconstruction, but equally excited and interested in solving my shoulder issue, a part of my body I haven’t been able to use in years.
“Dr. Elkwood said something very poignant when I met him. When you get a cancer diagnosis, your head is spinning with so many medical appointments and information. Dr. Elkwood said: ‘Right now, I’m the least important person to you in your life. Your oncologist and your breast surgeon control what’s happening. But five years from now, when you’re sitting next to the pool having a cocktail and your cancer is behind you, you’ll consider your new breasts and stomach, then I’ll be important.’ ”
Today, Sico is in the midst of chemotherapy for her recovery, and although she is experiencing residual shoulder pain that may require future care from Dr. Elkwood, she is able to live without wearing the brace.
“I am no longer scared and apprehensive,” she said. “I feel enough time has passed that I’m over the hump, and I’m very hopeful. From Day 1, Dr. Elkwood was responsible for giving me hope. ‘You’re going to get through this,’ he told me.
“Dr. Elkwood feels he and I were destined to meet because he was able to do my breast reconstruction and fix my shoulder, for which I had no hope. He needed a medical illustrator, which I originally studied in college and was my profession before becoming a nurse.”
Today, Sico is healing and works for Dr. Elkwood doing medical illustrations.
*MRSA, full name methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, is a form of bacterial infection that is resistant to numerous antibiotics. Healthcare-associated MRSA, as it is commonly known, has been a decades-long problem.