Lovelace general surgery team gets retiree on the path to recovery

Taos resident Dennis Salazar was just a young boy when he first rode a horse on his family’s ranch.

“My dad always had horses for us to ride,” said Dennis. “I think I got on my first horse when I was 4, maybe 5-years-old.”

Now 55, Salazar has ridden horses for many years as a member of the Taos County Sheriff’s Posse, an organization that puts on rodeos, rides in parades and sometimes helps the New Mexico State Police with search & rescue operations.

But the retired custodian of Ranchos Elementary School had not been able to ride in more than a year, ever since he had complications resulting from a procedure to remove an internal mass.

Multiple surgeries

“I initially went in for a routine colonoscopy, but in addition to two non-cancerous polyps, they found a mass that wasn’t cancer, but something they wanted to remove,” recalled Dennis.

Perhaps there was some tissue damage during the procedure because three days after the surgery, Dennis was in severe pain. His doctor in Taos determined that an abscess was growing in Dennis’ gut and surgery was needed surgery to remove it.

An abscess is a painful, swollen lump filled with pus that forms in tissues, organs or spaces inside the body. Most abscesses are caused by a bacterial infection.

When the body detects bacteria, the immune system sends infection-fighting white blood cells to the affected area. When the white blood cells attack the bacteria, nearby tissue dies, creating a space that then fills with pus to form the abscess.

If an abscess is not removed in a timely manner, it could burst and cause infection to spread throughout the body, which can be deadly.

Since the surgery area would involve the colon, the surgeon also decided to perform an ostomy – a surgical procedure that creates a temporary or permanent opening in the skin, called a stoma. In Dennis’s case, the surgeon created a stoma to connect his intestines to an ostomy pouching system to collect waste from Dennis’s internal organs.

“The surgeons did six surgeries on me before they finally cleared everything out,” said Dennis. “I was in the hospital for nearly eight weeks that summer.”

Additional care at Lovelace Medical Center

Dennis was discharged and went home to recover from the surgeries. With the help and care of his wife Natalie, they kept the stoma clean and dry, while also dealing with the ostomy pouch.

Still, issues with his gut, the stoma and the ostomy pouch remained, so Dennis was referred for a higher level of care to Rio Udell, PA-C, certified physician assistant with a general surgery specialty with Lovelace Medical Group.

Dennis and Natalie traveled to Albuquerque to meet with Udell and staff. “They said they wanted to do a number of tests to make sure that I was healthy enough to go through one more surgery,” Dennis said. “So I agreed to the tests. They did another colonoscopy, checked my heart, lungs and liver. They even proposed that when they did the surgery, they would remove my gallbladder because it was inflamed.”

During the surgery, general surgeon Dr. David Hoang removed Dennis’ gallbladder and reconnected his colon to its normal configuration. “The staff at Lovelace are very good at what they do. They helped me a lot. I went in on a Tuesday and was home on Thursday.”

A few weeks later, Dennis went back for a checkup. “The staff was amazed at how fast my body was healing. The hole where the stoma was had healed 90%. I just had to keep a bandage on it for a few more days and then I wouldn’t need to bother with it.”

Resting well at home, Dennis still has many months of recovery ahead of him.

“It’s getting there,” he said. “I’m recovering little by little. He told me it's going to take about 6-8 months, maybe a year before everything gets back to normal. But it’s better than what it was. I can use the bathroom normally now.”

Through his final surgery and his recovery, Dennis had nothing but high praise for the staff at Lovelace Medical Group.

“I really want to thank the people in Albuquerque. They did a great job,” said Dennis. “Before they did something, they explained what they were going to do, what I should expect and then they did it all very professionally. They really know what they are doing.”

"Mr. Salazar is doing very well at this time and we’re very pleased with his results,” said Rio Udell, PA-C. “We are very happy to help patients through their surgical issues."

Getting back in the saddle

While it’s been a long time since Dennis rode a horse, he is not in a hurry.

“I don't think I'm ready yet, because I want to get really healed up before I do anything like that” he said. “Once I can ride again, I want to go up into the mountains, perhaps go hunting for elk or deer.”

For someone who has been through many kinds of therapies over the past year, he is looking forward to the next therapy.

“Riding a horse is like therapy for me. It really relaxes me and I forget all about the stresses and pains that I’ve been through.”

Here’s hoping that Dennis gets back in the saddle as soon as possible.

If you would like to know more about the surgical services at Lovelace Health System, visit our website.