Rare surgery changing lives in St. Pete

Only two people in the world perform the surgery, and one is in St. Pete.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.  -- The Tampa Bay area is known for a lot of things, like beautiful beaches, spring training and great weather. But some people know St Petersburg for a medical miracle. 

Dreh Saxon is one of those people. She has a debilitating medical history including 52 surgeries by the age of 48. Dreh's life took a turn for the worse four years ago when she had to have her colon removed.

"The scary thing is when you would go out to dinner, I would be scared to eat," explained Saxon.

Saxon said she was going to the bathroom 40 times a day and became a prisoner in her own home. 

Eventually Saxon met Dr. Ernest Rehnke at the Palms of Pasadena Hospital in St. Petersburg. He's one of only two surgeons in the world that can perform the BCIR surgery or Barnett Continent Intestinal Reservoir.

Rather than an outside bag to collect a patients' waste, the BCIR lives inside the body, allowing Saxon and others more freedom.

"It's amazing. I can go swimming. I can jump on a trampoline. There's so much I can do now that I couldn't have done in the past," said Saxon.

She has a small hole in her lower torso. A few times a day, at her convenience, she inserts a tube and empties the waste from her internal pouch.

The BCIR can be a life-changing option; however, hardly anyone knows about this surgery.

"Our current instructors really don't know how to do this pouch and stuff so it's kind of, although it's been around a while, it's actually somewhat of a lost art," Rehnke explained.

He said the BCIR was associated with the Kock pouch of the 1960's, which sometimes had complications and therefore fell in disfavor among the medical community.

Rehnke has had people travel to St. Pete from as far as Australia to have the BCIR surgery. He plans to keep at it until more surgeons are trained. Just recently, Rehnke started training a surgeon from the United Kingdom.

"I'm passionate about it because of patients like Dreh, which the majority are like her, it really gives them their life back," said Rehnke.

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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