Greg Hathaway recently experienced the sudden onset of a hernia – something that runs in his family. Even though his hernia occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, Greg knew how safe his elective surgery would be, because he was already a teammate at Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center.

Coronavirus Updates, Your Health | one year ago

Minimally Invasive Surgery Helped Greg Quickly Recover from a Hernia – Even During COVID-19

Greg Hathaway recently experienced the sudden onset of a hernia – something that runs in his family. Even though his hernia occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, Greg knew how safe his elective surgery would be, because he was already a teammate at Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center. Thanks to the work of Dr. Vedra Augenstein and her team, Greg was able to recover quickly and get back to doing what he loves – helping others through his role as the director of operations for the Department of Spiritual Care and Education.

Reverend Greg Hathaway is the director of operations for Spiritual Care and Education at Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center (CMC). He’s used to training interns and residents and talking to patients in the hospital who might be feeling scared or uncertain. But recently, he became a patient himself after discovering he had a hernia one night at home. Because of his role working at CMC, Greg knew it was safe to seek care for his condition, and he sought help immediately.  

What is a hernia?

Hernias occur when a weakness in the abdominal muscles allow an organ or fatty tissue to break through the weakened area of the stomach. They can be caused by genetic factors as well as injury, chronic coughing, strenuous activities, or simply aging, and may develop quickly or slowly over time. The symptoms of a hernia include a bulge or lump in the abdomen, thigh, or groin and discomfort or pain. The bulge may appear less prominent when lying down.

If you experience symptoms of a hernia, it’s important to be evaluated by your doctor as quickly as possible. A hernia won’t repair it itself – and if left untreated, it can get worse or cause serious complications.

Hernias are usually treated with surgery. Today, many patients are able to have minimally invasive procedures such as robotic surgery to treat hernias. Most patients tolerate hernia surgery well and recover fairly quickly with minimal pain after surgery.

The sudden onset of symptoms leads to a quick diagnosis

Greg knew he had a history of hernias in his family – his father, brother, and nephew’s son have all had hernias. So, when Greg discovered a bulge in his lower abdomen one night, he suspected he had a hernia. Greg immediately made an appointment with his primary care physician, who confirmed that Greg had an inguinal hernia and referred him to Vedra Augenstein, MD, a surgeon with Atrium Health who specializes in hernias.

A few days later, Greg had his consult with Dr. Augenstein.

“Right away, Dr. Augenstein reassured me that what I was experiencing was typical for someone with a hernia,” says Greg. “She told me my only real restriction before surgery was not to lift anything or exert myself too much.”

He also says that Dr. Augenstein told him to reach out with any questions he had.

“When I emailed her with some questions later, she responded right away. I knew she had a lot of experience as a surgeon, but her warmth and friendliness as a person really put me at ease,” Greg adds.   

A successful surgery to treat hernia

“Greg was a candidate for robotic surgery to repair his hernia,” says Dr. Augenstein. “This technique allows the surgeon to make sutures using small incisions, which means less pain for the patient.”

Greg concurs that he had minimal pain following his hernia repair.

“I had my surgery on a Friday, and I went home the same day and slept most of the afternoon,” he explains.
“The next day, I had some soreness, but by Sunday, I was taking a walk around the neighborhood.”

A few days later, he experienced some pain while coughing, and reached out to Dr. Augenstein to check in. “Once again, she responded right away and told me what I was experiencing was normal,” Greg says. By the next week, Greg started working from home, and the week after that he was back to work in the hospital.

Greg has great things to say about the entire medical team who took care of him before, during, and immediately after his surgery. “From the person who checked me in to those who helped me with pre-op and post-op, everyone was so kind,” he explains. “As a chaplain, I’m always thinking about how patients feel – but it was different for me to be on the receiving end. I was so grateful for the compassionate care I received the entire time.”

COVID-Safe surgical practices putting patients at ease

Greg had to wait a few weeks for his hernia surgery, since many elective surgeries had previously been postponed or canceled due to COVID-19. But he knew firsthand from his work at Atrium Health that every possible precaution was being taken to keep patients and teammates safe at all times, so he was never really worried about COVID-19 during his surgery and pre- and post-surgical doctor visits.

“The hospital has been constantly screening all teammates for any COVID-19 symptoms,” says Dr. Augenstein. “Patients having any kind of elective surgery are tested for COVID-19 two days before the surgery. If anyone tests positive, their surgeries are postponed. It’s a great policy for everyone involved.”

She adds that she herself wears an N-95 mask, another mask on top, and a shield out of an abundance of caution. “Safety is the most important thing,” she says. “And the hospital is one of the safest places to be. From pre-op through surgery and post-op, we make sure everyone is safe. If you’re experiencing symptoms of a hernia, or anything else, don’t hesitate to see your doctor and schedule surgery if necessary.”

Learn more about hernias

Video: What to Expect for Surgery in a COVID-safe way

Video: Pre-Surgical COVID Testing