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To Avoid Open Surgery, Patient Travels to WakeMed Kidney Stone Center from Central America

Andrea O’Connor* has been dealing with kidney stones since the 1990s, so she knows the sharp, stabbing pain all too well. That’s why when Andrea and her family moved from North Carolina to Central America in 2018, she took every precaution to prevent future kidney stones. She had a water purification system installed in their home to eliminate the hard water. She didn’t drink tea or anything that used local water while away from home. She stayed away from milk, backed off cheese, and avoided her other trigger foods. Still, in the fall of 2019, that familiar pain resurfaced, and Andrea knew what she was facing.

She headed to the nearest hospital and consulted with a urologist who performed an ultrasound that showed two masses that he diagnosed as kidney stones. They prescribed her an alpha-blocker in hopes that the stones would pass on their own, but after a few days, it was clear she needed further treatment. At her next appointment, the urologist recommended removal of the kidney stones through an open surgical procedure.

Heading to the United States — WakeMed Kidney Stone Center — for a Second Opinion

To provide perspective, in the US, the gold standard imaging test for kidney stones is a CT scan because research has shown that ultrasound doesn’t provide clear enough images to diagnose kidney stones. Open surgery for kidney stone removal hasn’t been used in the US in nearly 40 years but is instead performed using one of three minimally-invasive techniques.

Since Andrea had been treated for kidney stones using non-surgical methods previously, she had some reservations about undergoing an open procedure and began looking for alternative options. Fortunately, Andrea still had health insurance in the United States and turned to Google for answers on getting immediate kidney stone relief. She was surprised to stumble upon the WakeMed Kidney Stone Center, which felt like a great option since it was located in her home state of North Carolina. She called the WakeMed “Stone Phone” at 8pm on a Saturday night, and was thrilled to immediately hear a live voice on the other end. WakeMed Urology Physician Assistant Karina Meza, PA-C listened to Andrea describe her symptoms and situation, then discussed potential treatment options with her. Andrea forwarded her labs and scans from the hospital in Central America, and talked with the Kidney Stone Center to make a plan for quickly getting the treatment she needed.

“The Kidney Stone Center staff was incredible,” recalls Andrea. “I knew I couldn’t wait weeks for my kidney stones to pass, and after talking with Karina and Dr. Kalorin, I felt confident this was the right team to help me. They took my call seriously, offered helpful advice, reassured me that I didn’t need open surgery, and coordinated everything I needed to get prompt treatment within a few days. The next thing I knew, I was on a plane to North Carolina and the WakeMed Kidney Stone Center.”

Once she was back in NC, her first stop was to get a CT scan, which showed that the “kidney stones” identified by ultrasound in Central America were actually just phleboliths, small harmless calcifications in the ureter that were not responsible for her pain. The CT did identify two smaller kidney stones, so WakeMed Urologist Dr. Carmin Kalorin removed them using ureteroscopy.

Minimally-Invasive Technique at WakeMed Ensures a Speedy Recovery

This minimally-invasive technique uses a fiber-optic camera that helps locate the kidney stones. Dr. Kalorin used a laser to break up the stones and removed them using a tiny, basket-like device. Finally, he placed a stent in the ureter to help reduce swelling and prepare Andrea for a speedy recovery. After a few days of rest, her stent was removed and Andrea was on a plane back to her home in Central America the next day.

“We were so thrilled to help Andrea manage her kidney stones without an unnecessary open surgery,” explains Dr. Carmin Kalorin, WakeMed Urologist who helped develop WakeMed Kidney Stone Center in 2016. “While we frequently see patients traveling to the Kidney Stone Center from all over North Carolina and sometimes from out of state, Andrea was our first international patient. It was an honor and privilege to get her feeling better and back to her home in Central America.”

“Being a frequent kidney stone maker, I’ve worked with many urologists and health systems over the years,” Andrea explains. “After my experience with Dr. Kalorin and the WakeMed Kidney Stone Center, there’s nowhere else in the world (literally) I’d go for a kidney stone. They are some of the nicest, smartest and most sincere people I’ve ever met. I’m glad to be feeling better, and I’m comforted to know the team is there for me if the need for treatment arises again in the future.”

*Patient name has been changed to protect privacy, although she willingly shared her story for publication.