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Brave Heart

Times of India
19 August 2010
Kolkata, India

70–year–old survives rare mastectomy
It will take more than blocked arteries and breast cancer to dampen the spirit of this doughty fighter. Few believed she could survive beyond a year, but septuagenarian Aloka Nag (name changed) is today alive and kicking, getting the better of both ailments.

Last week, the 70–year–old grandmother of two from Kolkata had a mastectomy under local anaesthesia in a city hospital. According to doctors, her survival is nothing short of a miracle as elderly cardiac patients rarely sail through major surgeries, that too without full anaesthesia.

"Since she had chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), administering a proper anaesthetic dose would have proved fatal. The only option was to go ahead with local anaesthesia, which was not free from risk either. But she showed tremendous spirit and, fortunately, her system held through the surgery very well," said Gautam Mukherjee, head of oncology department, Ruby General Hospital.

Nag was given anaesthesia through the spinal cord with the help of an epidural catheter, numbing her waist, hips, back and chest. After a full mastectomy, she was in her complete senses after a few hours.

"She was sent home in five days, which is simply amazing. Her lungs remain absolutely unaffected, which is unusual for COPD patients," added Mukherjee.

For now, the woman has been declared cured. Even though a relapse can never be ruled out in breast cancer cases, she has been allowed to resume normal activities. As she was diagnosed with stage II of the ailment, the surgery could not have been delayed.

"It’s common for COPD patients to slip into coma during a major surgery. Usually, their heart and lungs fail to withstand the strain. In this case, the lady showed remarkable resilience. This will encourage doctors to explore the option of surgery to treat elderly cancer patients," said Mukherjee.

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