Pilot’s Dream Comes True Thanks to New Robotic Surgery
Andrew Baniecki dreamed of becoming a pilot for as long as he can remember. His passion for airplanes began when he was a small child opting to play with toy planes instead of cars, and grew when he took his first ride on an airplane during a family trip to Disney World. At 8-years old Baniecki scribbled down on a piece of paper his dream of becoming an airline pilot and placed it into a time capsule. Ten years later, Baniecki pulled the weathered piece of paper out of the capsule reaffirming his desire to pursue flying professionally. By then however, his dream seemed out of reach due to health issues he had faced since birth which caused his bladder to deteriorate over time.
Baniecki suffers from myelomeningocele, otherwise known as spina bifida, a neurological disease that often leads to incomplete growth of the spine. It can also cause the spine to stretch, putting tension on the nerves which ultimately impacts bladder and bowel function. Growing up, Baniecki battled a hyperactive bladder and frequent urinary tract infections, endured two surgeries, and required regular use of a catheter to release his bladder. He was also on daily medication to help control his disease, all of which potentially affected his eligibility for a pilot’s license and significantly impaired his quality of life.
Despite his challenges, Baniecki was determined to make his dream of flying a reality and searched for answers. That’s when his doctors at Children’s Memorial Hospital referred him to Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s John Hairston, MD, one of only a handful of physicians in the country performing robotic bladder augmentation, a procedure that could allow Baniecki to stop daily use of medication, and gain better bladder control.
“When Andrew and his family came to see me, they were anxious to help him get to a point where he could live more comfortably and pursue his dreams,” said John Hairston, MD, urologist at Northwestern Memorial. “Andrew was a great candidate for robotic bladder augmentation, and as a fellow pilot I understood his will to not take no for an answer.”
Bladder Augmentation is a procedure that uses tissue and intestinal segments to rebuild a urinary reservoir and bladder walls. It has traditionally been performed through an open abdominal incision. Earlier attempts by other groups to perform the procedure laparoscopically still required the use of an abdominal incision to complete the intestinal work. Hairston and colleagues have pioneered an approach that occurs completely in the body using the DaVinci™ robotic system, resulting in the entire surgery being performed through five or six tiny incisions which are covered only by band aids. The innovative method offers several benefits over traditional open surgery, including a lower risk of infection, quicker recovery times and a shorter hospital stay.
“This procedure is a safe, effective alternative to open surgery that can provide great benefit to patients suffering from neurological disorders that cause dysfunction in the bladder,” said Hairston who is also an associate professor of urology and co-director of neurourology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Baniecki underwent surgery in 2010 which successfully repaired his bladder. He no longer requires life-long medication to control his bladder and is now an active young man who is far less hindered by his disease. On his 18th birthday Baniecki received the ultimate gift—he flew his very first training plane—a step towards receiving his pilot’s license.
“Every pilot remembers the day when they pass the practical flight exam as their examiner gets out of the plane and they are able to fly home for the very first time as a solo licensed pilot,” said Hairston.
“The feeling of independence and achievement I had was indescribable. I am so happy that Andrew will be able to experience that feeling.”
“I feel great. I am in college. I am working towards my pilot’s license and I am living my dream,” said Baniecki.
Northwestern Memorial is currently only one of ten hospitals in the country performing robotic bladder augmentation. To learn more about the procedure and the Integrated Pelvic Health Program please call 312-926-0779.
Jennifer Monasteri, Manager