Advertisements

‘I can reach the world again’ | Health Beat

Advertisements

Kristina King’s life journey has taken her on many paths. She has boxed professionally, worked in prisons and been part of a search and rescue team. Today she is a farmer. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)

Kristina Koenig

King boxed professionally in her late 20s and early 30s. She traveled to China for a televised fight with Laila Ali, daughter of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)

Advertisements

Kristina Koenig

King credits her wife Bet for helping her navigate recent health challenges. She also credits the robotic surgery for relieving her of the pain. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)

Kristina Koenig

Advertisements

In her boxing days, King had torn her diaphragm in a fight. The scar tissue caused increasing pain for more than 20 years. Some of the scar tissue fused to her heart. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)

Kristina Koenig

“I got to a point where at times I could barely walk,” King said. “I used a walker to get around and I had to rest a lot as the pain became immensely severe.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)

Advertisements

Kristina Koenig

Cardiothoracic surgeon Geoffrey Lam, MD, developed a plan that would help deal with the scar tissue and hopefully improve her quality of life. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)

Kristina Koenig

Advertisements

“I was walking in my walker that same night,” King said. “And the next day … (the) tube came out. And the next day another tube. I was out of the hospital in four days.” (Photos courtesy | Kristina King)

Kristina Koenig

King remembers how sad she was because of her pain and inactivity. “I don’t know if Dr. Lam knows how much I appreciate him,” she said. “He gave me my life back” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)

Advertisements

Kristina Koenig

King volunteers again with K-9 search and rescue teams. She and her work colleague Emma assisted law enforcement in many rescue scenarios. (Photos courtesy | Kristina King)

Kristina Koenig

“I can reach out to the world again and touch the world like I wanted to before,” she said. “And I’m glad I took that risk with this surgery.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)

Kristina Koenig

“I hiked Canyonlands and met people I would never have met,” she said. “I only retired in July. And I’ve still got a lot to live.” (Photo courtesy | Kristina King)

Kristina Koenig

After the surgery, King said she was back at 100 percent. “We work heavy equipment out here,” she said. “I can hop on farm implements now.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)

Kristina King’s wife, Bet Dembicky, puts it best.

“To say she doesn’t sit still would be an understatement,” Bet said.

Here’s a brief catalog of the incredible forays King has taken on her life’s journey at the age of 53 so far:

  • She boxed professionally in her late 20s and early 30s. She even fought Laila Ali, daughter of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali.
  • She worked in US prisons for more than 30 years. As a sergeant on a security team, she dealt with rowdy inmates and even rose to the rank of lieutenant in her career.
  • In her free time, she volunteers with a search and rescue team.
  • During these days she perfects her everyday life as a farmer.

Anyway, it’s an exciting life.

But it was not without serious consequences.

See also  Pandemic has made pilates popular again. Yes, anybody can do it

In her boxing days, King fractured her diaphragm in a fight. The scar tissue accompanied her for more than 20 years. Some of the scar tissue fused to her heart.

Because three-fourths of her stomach was pulled into her stomach, scar tissue had lodged on her aorta and left lung, King said.

With the damaged diaphragm and the effects of the scar tissue, their activities were restricted.

“I was in light duty for some time,” King said.

At some point, this affected their ability to work.

Where she could once go into the prison yard to chat with prisoners, her physical health quickly put an end to that. It was just too dangerous if she ever had to defend herself physically.

“I got to a point where I could barely walk at times,” she said. “I used a walker to get around and I had to rest a lot as the pain became immensely serious.”

It has become a terrible situation, she said. It even affected their ability to eat solid food.

Then, in June 2021, she met Geoffrey Lam, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon at Spectrum Health.

The way to the operation

as dr Lam met with King, he soon recognized the problem and devised a plan.

“She had a recurrent hiatal hernia where her stomach was pushing back into the chest cavity,” said Dr. lamb

King’s pain had worsened and she had difficulty swallowing for years. She thought she needed to have her esophagus removed, but Dr. Lam said it wasn’t necessary.

“Our plan was to treat the scar tissue…and hopefully improve her quality of life after surgery,” said Dr. lamb “She had very little hope when we first met.”

dr Lam would use robotic surgery to address the problem.

Before that, however, King would need to lose about 30 pounds.

She followed a strict low-carb diet for a few months and lost enough weight to get surgery approved.

That came in August 2021.

King underwent multiple procedures at Spectrum Health Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center, including upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, robotic video-assisted hernia repair, and gastroesophageal reflux surgery.

dr Lam performed the robotic surgery through small incisions between the ribs, which would help minimize post-operative pain and the recovery period.

“We want to offer patients a minimally invasive approach whenever possible,” said Dr. lamb “There is a lot of data looking at the long-term effects and improvement in pain, quality of life, faster recovery and shorter hospital stay from the use of robotic surgery.”

dr Lam knew the surgery would be long and tedious. King had 20 years of scar tissue in her abdomen.

Robotic surgery would help avoid a major incision, reducing the impact on her body and helping her get back on her feet much sooner.

“Traditional surgeries in the chest cavity involve a long incision, between 4 and 6 inches long, where we have to go between the ribs and then spread the ribs apart,” said Dr. lamb “You can imagine this can be very painful, with a much longer hospital stay and recovery.”

See also  Autoimmune Diseases Linked to Spike in Post-MI Events

In the robotic procedure, the doctor made four small incisions, each about 1/2 inch long.

The operation itself involved small, delicate instruments and a camera.

“The robotic platform allows us to perform surgeries much more precisely, even compared to minimally invasive surgeries,” said Dr. lamb “We were able to safely perform the surgery in a very short time, with no major incisions or lengthy recovery times.”

Up and in motion

After the surgery, King found she could get out of bed instantly.

“I was out with my walker that same night,” she said. “And the next day … (the) tube came out. And the next day another tube. I was out of the hospital in four days.”

It turned out to be life changing.

She had always been a resilient person, always on the move.

When she became a boxer in 1996, she went all out. She held five titles in toughwoman competition, including two runners-up and a Michigan state title in 1999. She went on to box professionally, including the April 2000 fight in China against Laila Ali.

When the sport became too physically demanding, she switched to coaching. And when she could no longer train, she switched to new challenges.

“That’s when I started search and rescue,” King said. “I could handle that. I had a bloodhound named Emma and she and I saved several lives.”

She also got into farming.

Despite this, her health issues had kept her from the level of activity she desired. It had been a devastating blow.

“There were times I would just sit and cry because there was nothing I could do, and I was always so physical,” she said.

Your surgery with Dr. Lam changed all that.

“I don’t know if Dr. Lam knows how much I appreciate him,” she said. “He gave me my life back”

“I can reach the world again”

After the surgery, King said she was back at 100 percent.

She now works regularly with Bet, driving the John Deere tractor up and down the 200 acres they tend their crops on.

“We work heavy equipment out here,” she said. “I can now jump onto farm implements.”

She can run, hike and climb long flights of stairs without putting pressure on her diaphragm. She and a friend even hiked more than 60 miles last spring in Utah, where they visited five national parks.

“I hiked Canyonlands and met people I would never have met,” she said. “I only retired in July. And I still have a lot to live.”

She looks forward to the prospect of being able to enjoy life on the go again.

“I can reach out to the world again and touch the world like I wanted to before,” she said. “And I’m glad I took that risk with this surgery.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.