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Juanita Rappleye: Radiofrequency Ablation Surgery Heals with Heat

A poodle’s loud yipping nearly drowns out seventy-one-year-old Juanita Rappleye’s raspy Southern drawl. Details of her recent kidney tumor removal through minimally invasive radiofrequency ablation at New Hanover Regional Medical Center become barely audible.

"As I was saying," she says, overcoming the canine commotion, "to be cut wide open and have half my kidney taken out for such a small tumor just wasn’t cuttin’ it for me. But when I heard of radiofrequency ablation through Dr. Brodwater, I knew I had another option."

Dr. Brian Brodwater, an interventional radiologist with Delaney Radiologists in Wilmington, uses a surgical procedure called radiofrequency ablation, or RFA, for the removal of small, isolated tumors primarily in the lungs, kidneys or liver. A radiofrequency generator with a needle electrode heats tumors to very high temperatures, destroying them. The needle is inserted directly through the skin, guided by CT scan or ultrasound, with the patient under general or local anesthesia.

Rappleye, a North Carolina native and local newspaper delivery driver, explains how she learned of the tumor in her left kidney. “Lab results found blood in my urine,” she says. “So they did a sonogram. Then a CT scan, which showed a tumor. I was told it was probably cancerous and should have it removed ASAP. ”

Surgery. The word alone frightened. Thirty years since her last surgical procedure, one that to this day still produces occasional pain: “It wasn’t the greatest experience, and since then talk of surgery always gets me a little nervous,” she says. And then the more practical concern: Rappleye often begins work before dawn, loading her car full of newspapers for delivery. It’s the kind of job that doesn’t suffer sick days very well, she says. “I’m a pay-day to pay-day girl with deadlines,” says Rappleye. “To be laid up in bed for five weeks (from traditional open surgery) and not be able to drive for three weeks would be near impossible. I just couldn’t take that kind of time.”

All the more reason for radiofrequency ablation, she decided: “Dr. Brodwater told me I was the ideal candidate. I said, ‘Well, let’s go for it!’”

Sluggishness from anesthesia and a tiny pencil point size mark on her back is her only memory of the procedure, she says. “All that was there was a small band-aid covering where Dr. Brodwater went in with the needle. Some surgery, huh?” she says. “I only missed two days of work and didn’t have a bit of pain.” Most important, the cancerous tumor is gone, she says. “The follow-up scans reveal nothing. Everything looks great,” she says. “I would highly recommend the procedure to anyone.”

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