Joanna’s Story

Pilates instructor Joanna McGuigan knew something was wrong.

Fit and slender-framed, Joanna’s belly was beginning to bulge, but she knew she wasn’t pregnant. In pain, it was becoming harder and harder for her to teach classes. Joanna went for an ultrasound, and learned she had a uterine fibroid tumour. In just seven months, the aggressive tumour grew to the size of a large grapefruit. “I’ve always had discomfort, but thought it was just normal for me,” she explains. “But the pain was getting worse and then I started haemorrhaging. I knew I needed help.”

I’m so grateful to Dr. Lefebvre, her team at St. Michael’s and all of the donors who supported this technology. They’ve given me my life back.
– Joanna

Joanna became the first patient in Canada to have a myomectomy – the surgical removal of a uterine tumour – without damage to the uterus using a surgical robot. Just as she was losing hope, Joanna was referred to Dr. Guylaine Lefebvre, Chief of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at St. Michael's. Dr. Lefebvre told Joanna about the hospital's new surgical robot - an incredible piece of innovative technology that was now available, thanks to a $4.5 million investment by generous donors.

Joanna researched her options. Only 34, she still wanted to bear children, but the surgery she needed would eliminate that possibility. Joanna kept looking for an alternative, but nothing else turned up in Canada. She found a laser-guided MRI treatment in the U.S., but if she went through with this procedure, she still wouldn’t be able to have children naturally.

“There was no other way to tackle a tumour this size because of its location without the help of our surgical robot,” says Dr. Lefebvre. “We didn’t know for sure if we could remove the tumour and maintain Joanna’s uterus, but knowing her strong desire to bear children, we had to try.”

In October 2008, Joanna became the first patient in Canada to have a myomectomy – the surgical removal of a uterine tumour – without damage to the uterus using a surgical robot. St. Michael’s is the only Canadian hospital to adopt this gynaecologic surgery technique using a robotics system.

Joanna woke up from the six-hour surgery feeling some discomfort, but very little pain. She was able to go home two days later.

“I was back teaching Pilates in two weeks. It’s amazing how fast I recovered and how good I feel now,” she says. “I’m so grateful to Dr. Lefebvre, her team at St. Michael’s and all of the donors who supported this technology. They’ve given me my life back.”