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Tom Cornford

Prairie man 'cruising' with quick surgical recovery

Tom Cornford battled acid reflux for 15 years. Medications helped some, but he still suffered. Tom didn't fool himself into ignoring his risks. He knew that his gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) could lead to cancer.

His doctors had already found signs of Barrett's esophagus, a pre-cancerous condition caused by GERD. A friend of his died of esophageal cancer, so Tom knew he had to act. But he had also watched another friend's slow and difficult recuperation from GERD surgery.

Last fall, Tom met Gundersen Health System surgeon Jennifer McLellan, MD. Before that meeting, Tom believed he would have to wait months for surgery and was dreading the prospect of a long recovery.

The 64-year-old is retired from 3M but is not one to sit still. He is a hobby farmer on his family's Prairie du Chien homestead and serves on the county board of supervisors. He and his wife, Beverly, had booked a Caribbean cruise for January. That was something they definitely didn't want to miss.

Fortunately, Dr. McLellan was able to see and treat Tom quickly. She is one of three skilled Gundersen surgeons serving patients in Prairie du Chien and Boscobel, Wis., and in Guttenberg, Iowa. They perform a broad range of general surgeries and procedures—including colonoscopies and endoscopies.

For Tom, Dr. McLellan performed a procedure called a Nissen fundoplication at Prairie du Chien Memorial Hospital on Dec. 16, 2013. Her minimally-invasive laparoscopic approach meant that instead of opening up Tom's abdomen, Dr. McLellan made just five, half-inch long incisions.

She strengthened the barrier between Tom's lower esophagus and his stomach. Tom's acid reflux stopped. A month and a half later, he was on a Caribbean cruise ship, eating and drinking what he wanted…in moderation.

"She was very, very thorough in explaining the procedure and what I could expect," says Tom. "I wish I had the perfect words for Dr. McLellan's bedside manner, for her expertise and how she gained my trust."

"Tom had suffered with this for a long time and didn't realize there was an option other than invasive surgery," Dr. McLellan says. "Having three Gundersen surgeons in this area who recently completed their training means we have learned all the newest, up-to-date treatments and surgeries. I think that is a definite advantage for people in Prairie du Chien, Boscobel, Guttenberg and the surrounding communities."

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