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After three GI surgeries, Tara Stanley is back to deer hunting

In the backyard of her rural Crawford County, Kansas, home, Tara Stanley pulls back the string on her bow, takes aim at a target, and lets the arrow fly.

Bullseye.

She’s been through three surgeries in the past year, and is preparing for another. All have been with Brett Dunbar, DO, a general surgeon at Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg, and all, she says, were on target.

In August 2014, Tara hadn’t been feeling well for a few weeks when she decided to visit a bow shop in a nearby town where she shoots as a member of an archery team. On the way home, she had to pull over.

“My stomach pain was so severe, I didn’t think I could make it home,” Tara recalls.

Testing revealed the culprit: Diverticulitis, or inflamed areas in her colon that had become infected.

Dr. Dunbar recommended surgery. Tara was resistant; always healthy and never one to miss work, she wanted to know if there were other options.

There weren’t: Her colon had an abscess that became a hole, and she wasn’t getting better without surgery.

Dr. Dunbar removed a portion of her colon, then performed a colostomy — something that doesn’t happen often for a person Tara’s age. A colostomy is surgery in which an opening is created from an area inside the body to the outside, which allows treatment for certain diseases of the digestive or urinary systems and for waste to leave the body. It can be permanent, or temporary when the organ needs time to heal, as in Tara’s case.

“I was just 43, and it was overwhelming,” Tara recalls. 

'He really cared'

A dispatcher with Craw-Kan Telephone Company, she’s a take-charge person who is used to playing a role in troubleshooting problems in the system and getting results. Now, she had to turn to others to do that.

Weak and needing to not only care for her wound but also mentally and emotionally process her condition, she found herself “feeling really down in the dumps,” she says. She worried about how her husband of just a few years might react to her colostomy. 

But each visit to Dr. Dunbar lifted her spirits, she says, making her feel more confident about her future.

“His reassurance, his care, completely changed my day. He really cared, he’s so sincere, and he helped me see that I would get past this,” she said, wiping away tears. “The compassion I have for him is because of the compassion he showed me.”

Dr. Dunbar says he’s flattered by Tara’s praise, but also credited her determination with how quickly she healed and resumed normal activities.

“She was a positive person who was bound and determined to get through it,” said Dr. Dunbar, who said his approach to treating patients includes helping them in all aspects of their healing, from pre-surgery discussions, to making sure they feel mentally and emotionally ready for a procedure, to helping them navigate issues they face during their recovery.

Once the surgical area had fully healed, Tara returned to Dr. Dunbar for a reversal, and bounced back in three weeks.

“I love my job, and it was very important to me to get back to work,” she says.

As an avid deer hunter, she also had another goal: To get back in her deer stand during the 2014 season. She made it.

“I haven’t missed a deer season in four or five years,” she says. It’s a tradition she started with her dad, then took up again with her husband, Chuck. “I don’t have to bag a deer every time. Just being in the stand is enough. You feel so alive, so peaceful. If I couldn’t have gotten back to it, I don’t know what I would have done.”

The next round

But not before she was a patient of Dr. Dunbar once again. In mid-June of this year, she was diagnosed with gallstones. She had sought help from her family physician, who asked, “Do you want us to call Dr. Dunbar?”

Tara answered with a resounding, “Yes.”

Dr. Dunbar was scheduled for vacation, so Tara opted to wait until he returned in order to have him as her surgeon.

In early 2016, she’ll have surgery again, this time to repair a hernia that was a result of her colostomy — a common occurrence.

“If Dr. Dunbar moved away and I had to have surgery, I’d buy a plane ticket,” Tara said with a smile. “He’s just that good.”