Lifestyle: Pilot pops by P'ville for surgery

Instead of going to UCLA or Stanford medical center, a Washington man last week piloted a Cessna 150 to Porterville to have a specific type of hernia surgery done.

The reason Miles Erickson flew into Porterville is a matter of trust — for the Bard Kugel hernia patch repair method and Dr. Gaurang Pandya, who is one the few doctors in the area — if not the only one — who knows and understands the Bard Kugel Patch method.

Erickson, 30, found Pandya via the Internet, where he read about the doctor and the fact that he uses the Kugel patch method for hernia repair.

"I was surprised when he called," Pandya said. "Most people don't want to come to a small town for surgery. But if they're looking for service they come to the right place when they come here. We provide great service."

Pandya apparently provided the right solution for the medical problem Erickson was experiencing.

Four years ago, the enterprising patient had the Kugel Patch method performed on a hernia that developed on his right side. That surgery was performed by the inventor of the Kugel patch method, Dr. Robert Kugel.

In an informational handout, to better understand hernias, Pandya recommends thinking of your hernia as a bulge in a tire: "The outer wall of the tire is like your abdominal wall. The inner tube of the tire is like your intestines. If the tire wall weakens, a bulge may occur."

That bulge, when it happens in the body, can be very painful and physically limiting.

After the first surgery, Erickson said, he suspected he would have another hernia because they run in his family.

Kugel is now retired, so Erickson, who lives in Everett, Wash., found himself searching for a surgeon knowledgeable and skillful in the procedure after discovering another hernia.

He found Pandya's Web site, made the call and set up an appointment.

A licensed pilot, Erickson flew in on Thursday evening, had pre-op procedures done Friday and had the hernia surgery on Saturday morning.

He was preparing to fly out Monday morning when he spoke to The Recorder.

"Essentially, there are three ways hernias are repaired," Erickson said while sitting in Pandya's office. "The open method, from which it takes longer to recover and you have higher risk of infection. There's the laparoscopic method. You need anesthesia and it has a high risk of complications. And there's the Kugel Patch method. With that there is lower risk and shorter recovery period."

Erickson's lifestyle begs for a quick recovery time. He is very active and jogs five to six miles a day. The thought of having to shut down his physically active life for a month because of surgery was not appealing.

Since his first surgery in 2004 he knew enough about the Kugel Patch method and its inventor to trust it. He learned enough about Pandya to trust him and his ability to perform the surgery.

The traveling patient smiled when he compared the surgeries and the two doctors who performed them.

"I actually feel better than I did the first time," Erickson said. "Even though the first surgery was done by the inventor, I think Dr. Pandya did a better job. The only medication I'm taking for pain is Extra Strength Tylenol. After the surgery I walked to my car and I didn't feel too bad about it."

That, Erickson said, is the beauty of the procedure: pain and down time are minimal, as is the risk of complications.

The procedure takes about 30 to 45 minutes to complete, and the average patient is able to go home in about two hours.

Pandya had a final look at Erickson on Monday before he was to fly back to Washington. Friend and fellow pilot David Bliss accompanied him — just in case.

That Erickson wanted to have his surgery done in Porterville is not surprising to Pandya. Despite its size, Porterville is home to a host of premier medical professionals who chose a smaller town in which to practice.

Pandya, who worked in New York for a while, is one of them.

"I did my residency in New York, and it was just too much traffic," he said. "It took four or five hours to commute. People told me I shouldn't come here because it's a poor community. That doesn't bother me. I've been here 20 years."

And counting.

The successful doctor found Porterville because his cousin's husband works in Visalia. He settled here in 1988 after serving in the U.S. Air Force.

The service he provides draws patients from all over, including Washington. Caring for patients in the best way possible is so important to Pandya that after spending between $10,000 and $15,000 to learn about a specific hernia procedure, he opted not to use it.

He has, he says, good reason to use the Kugel Patch method. The patch is made from a medical grade nylon called marlex, Pandya said.

"The results are much better," he said. "It's tension free."

Author: Anita Stackhouse-Hite

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