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Pete reclaimed his self-esteem through robotic hernia repair

Last Modified: November 18, 2020

Family Medicine


Six years ago, Pete Eckert noticed a mild umbilical hernia – a protrusion through a gap in the abdominal muscle and tissue – near his belly button. Over the years, it grew, in both size and inconvenience. The growth prompted Pete to pursue a consult. “About four years ago, I went and saw a surgeon in Huntington,” he said. “He told me that before he would consider repairing it, I would have to lose weight.” This was a sore spot for Pete, who was aware he needed to make some changes. “To be honest, it was a huge embarrassment. Admittedly, I’d let myself go. When I was in high school, I was a decent athlete. I weighed about 200 pounds, and would get down to about 167-177 during wrestling season. But when I saw the surgeon, I weighed well over 300 pounds.”

Additionally, Pete had reservations about the procedure. “My brother had a hernia fixed and they had to cut out his belly button. It left a 5-6-inch scar near his waistline. He was down for quite a while. I wasn’t ready for that.”

The hernia itself – which was then about the size of half a softball – was also drawing unwanted attention. “I was wearing bigger clothes to try and hide it, but it was so disheartening when people would notice it,” Pete said. The bulge was so prominent, in fact, that it developed a personality of sorts. “My family named it ‘Henry the Hernia.’ I’d walk in the house and they’d ask me how Henry was doing. It became the running joke. It was all in good fun.”

Jokes aside, Pete was feeling the mental toll of both the excess weight and the hernia. “Emotionally, it was a struggle. Honestly the mental part of it was probably the most painful of all, and yet it was never enough, and the hernia didn’t hurt enough to motivate me to make a change.”

It was the women in his life who ultimately provided the nudge that Pete needed. “My niece, Chelsea, actually works for Intuitive Surgical, who is the creator of the da Vinci Surgery, which builds the robotics that Parkview uses for hernia repairs, [among other procedures]. She knew how I felt about my situation and told me all about the procedure and how minimally invasive it was.”

When his daughter, Haylee, started showing concern, he knew it was time to revisit the matter. “She finally said, ‘Dad, please get it taken care of.’ Between her concern and my niece’s knowledge of da Vinci, I was coming around to the idea.”

In late February 2020, Haylee and Pete both began following a ketogenic diet, and Pete eventually shed a total of 90 pounds. “I did the diet and made some lifestyle changes and I saw the pounds coming off,” he said. “People went from commenting on my weight to talking about how great I looked.”

Empowered by his success and the knowledge that a less invasive approach was an option, Pete decided to make an appointment for a consult. “Chelsea gave me the names of doctors in the area who used the robot. She recommended Francisco Javier Reyes, MD, PPG – General Surgery, in Columbia City. She’d sat in on surgeries with him and said he was really good. It would only leave three little cuts. I figured I should try it.”

Pete felt even more confident after his initial consult. “At my first appointment with Dr. Reyes, he was very professional, and really just a great guy. He told me I was definitely a candidate for this type of surgery based on his evaluation. I scheduled the surgery for two weeks later.”

Surgery day went as smoothly as possible, in part because of the dedicated staff at Parkview Whitley Hospital. “My wife took me, and they got me in right away. The staff was very professional and could not have been friendlier. They made me feel like I knew them. Dr. Reyes came in and said a few things. Next thing I knew, I was waking up!”

Pete spent approximately one hour in recovery and, once he was comfortable, the staff made sure he could walk around the hall. “After I got the all clear, they let me get dressed, wheeled me out and I went home.”

Pete is an assistant high school football coach, as well as a full-time employee at Our Sunday Visitor, so he was very strategic in planning his procedure. “I did this during football season, around our third game. I scheduled the surgery for Monday so I could have a couple of days off and be at the game Friday,” he said. “I have a very caring and loyal coaching staff and group of players. While I was on the sideline, if anything came close to me, they protected me. A few times, players even jumped in front of me. It blew my mind how caring they were. A few of the players hugged me when they saw me get out of the truck. You don’t know how important that was to me.”

After the surgery, Pete found pain management easy to control. “I didn’t take any medication. I got the pain medicine prescriptions filled, but I didn’t have to take any of it. There was some pain when I would stand up, but it was tolerable. I would say it was more discomfort than pain. I was able to return to work after just a few days off.”  

In general, Pete is feeling renewed, from the inside, out. “My self-esteem is tenfold better. I’m still not where I want to be with my weight, but I’m wearing a lot smaller clothes and I can wear shirts that actually fit me. If I gain the weight back, there’s no guarantee the hernia won’t come back or I won’t get another one, so that’s a huge motivator to keep going. I don’t have to cover anything up anymore. I feel like myself again, just older. Someone I work with told my sister-in-law how much happier I seemed. I didn’t realize how much things were affecting me.”

As for others who find themselves struggling with a possible surgical journey ahead, Pete is happy to share his thoughts. “I’m 54 and on the other side of the mountain. My family and I want to make sure I’m here as long as possible, and this was a huge help. I would recommend the robotic surgery, Dr. Reyes and definitely Parkview. The staff was so professional and caring. They weren’t just doing their jobs. They made me as comfortable as possible.”

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