Watch CBS News

"I have my life back": Penn Medicine solves woman's medical mystery

Medical mystery solved at Penn Medicine
Medical mystery solved at Penn Medicine 02:17

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A medical mystery is solved at Penn Medicine where doctors also devised a new treatment for a potentially life-threatening condition.

The patient is also an employee at Penn. She was suffering from debilitating symptoms for months with her worried colleagues working hard to figure out what was wrong.

"Thank you so much, Dr. Itkin," Ronni Elena said. "You saved my life."

Elena gets emotional thanking the team at Penn Medicine who figured out her medical mystery.

"They refused to give up and they told me I was going to be OK," she said.

The doctors were also her friends. Elena works at Penn as a secretary in cardiac intensive care. Seven months ago she started having intense gastrointestinal issues and lost 80 pounds while her belly was filled with fluid.


"I started passing out for no reason," Elena said. "Nobody could figure it out."

She managed to work as much as she could. Finally, after months of testing, there was a diagnosis.

"She had this condition called Protein Losing Enteropathy where you lose protein in your bowels and you're not able to absorb nutrition," Dr. Todd Hecht, a hospitalist at Penn Medicine, said.

Dr. Hecht says it's a rare and potentially life-threatening condition. Traditional treatments didn't work, so the team at Penn tried something new.

"I personally have never seen this before," Hecht said.

Elena had an obstruction in her thoracic duct causing the back-up of fluid into her stomach. To clear that she had thoracic duct bypass surgery. It's the first time it was used to treat her condition.


"It's a new technique, new approach new disease, new imaging that we figure out for you and will figure out for other people," Dr. Max Itkin said. "It was amazing that it actually worked."

"I have my life back," Elena said.

Her symptoms are gone, she's gained back the weight and is beginning to feel like herself again.

"Now I'm on the road to recovery," Elena said. "I'm so happy they saved my life."

The Penn team will be presenting Elena's case at a medical conference Monday. They hope the surgery used to treat Elena will be used by other patients with her condition.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.