Patience Okoduwa had flown from Lagos to the emirate in an attempt to find a cure for long-standing abdominal pains – only for tests to detect the congenital condition, which affects only about one in 10,000 people around the world.
In patients with situs inversus totalis, the organs in the chest and abdomen are found reversed or in a mirror image of their normal position.
Not only is it associated with other issues such as congenital heart disorders and lung problems, it also poses a unique challenge for doctors performing surgery.
Ms Okoduwa, 39, had found no solution to her health problems in her home country, which led her to travel to Dubai’s Medeor Hospital for further support.
Dr Jaswant Ahuja, specialist radiologist at the hospital, said medical advances in the country were key to identifying the condition.
“We have made technical advances in sonography, such as CT and MRI, that have helped us identify these anomalies,” he said.
“During the scan, I found transposition of the organs. The liver and gallbladder, normally located on the right side, were seen on the left side of the abdomen. The heart was located on the right side.”
Ms Okoduwa and her husband Emmanuel were shocked to learn of the diagnosis.
“I have undergone three C-sections in the past. Over the years I have visited a couple of big hospitals for gallstones. I am surprised that nobody has been able to detect this till we came here,” Ms Okoduwa said.
Medics rise to the challenge
As medical procedures are designed to be conducted on patients with major organs, such as the heart and liver, on the left side, doctors had to change their approach.
Dr Arindam Ghosh, consultant gastrointestinal surgeon and chief of surgery at Medeor Hospital, said discovering the issue before going into the operating theatre was crucial.
“This was a challenging operation as it required a complete reorientation mentally to execute the procedure without complications,” he said.
“The surgeon’s non-dominant left hand would have to work as the main operating hand, a task that isn’t easy.
“The patient also had other complications, like a hernia and severe adhesions in the whole abdomen that needed to be cleared. We performed the surgery laparoscopically using mirror-image keyholes. “
All the instruments used in the surgery were placed on the mirror-image side.
Dr Gosh said it was the first surgery of this kind he had performed in his career.
Ms Okoduwa was discharged a day after her gall bladder surgery and has recovered well.
“We are grateful to Dr Ghosh and the entire medical team,” Emmanuel Okoduwa said.
“We appreciate the kindness shown to us throughout our visit.”
The couple were so overwhelmed by the support they received in Dubai they plan to buy an apartment in the emirate to make it a home from home.
People with situs inversus totalis can typically lead normal lives. Many are unaware of the condition until it is detected through diagnostic tests for other ailments.
“Once a person is diagnosed with situs inversus totalis, it is recommended that they carry a badge revealing their disorder,” Dr Gosh said.
“A badge would come in handy during a medical emergency because doctors would be able to help them quickly.”