Man survives ‘hardest’ surgery that takes staggering 2 days and has huge risks

By Staff 6 Min Read

After being treated for testicular cancer, George, 27, urgently needs high-risk surgery to have a tumour removed that’s invaded his spine and stomach – but the op could kill him

A patient endured one of the ‘hardest operations’ known to man over two gruelling days.

BBC’s popular series Surgeons: At the Edge of Life is back for a sixth time and follows world-leading surgeons pushing science and the human body to its limits. In the first episode tonight, 27-year-old George, who has already been treated for testicular cancer, needs a two-day operation to remove a tumour deep in his body.

The tumour, which appears benign but could turn cancerous, has invaded his spine and attached itself to the body’s biggest blood vessel. It’s a daunting task for his surgeon, who admits it’s one of the ‘hardest operations’ he’s ever had to perform, and the sort of op he ‘loses sleep’ over. Lots could go wrong – but it’s a risk George is willing to take.

Consultant Spinal Surgeon Michael Quaye and Consultant Urology Surgeon James Douglas join forces to perform the high-risk operation, which they’ve never attempted before. Speaking ahead of the op, Michael says: “This is probably one of the hardest operations I’ve ever done. It makes you feel nervous.”

He continued: “It makes you feel terribly nervous for George because I want to do the best for him. This is the sort of operation you lose sleep over.” On the first day of surgery, Michael makes a 30cm incision down George’s back, cutting through skin muscle and scar tissues from his previous operations to get to his spine.

He must remove most of George’s vertebra without disturbing the nearby spinal nerves to get rid of the tumour. Any damage to these could leave George paralysed – but previous scar tissue makes it incredibly difficult for Michael.

On the second day of surgery, James operates on George’s abdomen to take out the remaining sections of tumour, risking a fatal bleed on his artery. It’s made even more tricky by the tumour being attached to the ureter, the tube which carries urine from the kidney.

As well as George’s story, this week’s episode sees 49-year-old Nigel have a tumour removed from his lung, which has doubled in size in just five weeks. Consultant Thoracic Surgeon Alessandro Tamburrini must cut out a section of his rib and operate on the veins and arteries that connect the lung to the heart. If he damages any of these, Nigel could bleed to death.

The University Hospital Southampton is one of the country’s leading medical centres. Each episode of the BBC series follows leading surgeons taking calculated risks on patients who need lifesaving operations.

  • Surgeons: At the Edge of Life airs on BBC Two at 9pm tonight.

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