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Cancer survivor recovering well following robotic-assisted surgery at St. James

David Haack is a cancer survivor, but he didn’t know about the disease spreading in his body when he moved to Montana less than a year ago to be closer to his family.

“To have the grandkids come over, even if they spend a half-hour with me, it just puts a little extra light in the room,” said Haack. “I wanted to be close to them, watch them grow up, be a part of their lives.”

He found a new primary caregiver in Butte. As a part of his new patient onboarding process, they ran some bloodwork. Due to his age, they included a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, which screens for prostate cancer.

“We were here in Butte less than four months, and then we found out that I had cancer,” Haack said.

“David had absolutely no symptoms related to his urinary tract or any issues in that regard. So, if he had not had that PSA drawn, that never would have led to the biopsy — and it would never have lead to the diagnosis,” said Nate Readal, MD.

Dr. Readal is a urologist at SCL Health – St. James Healthcare in Butte. He performed the surgery to remove Haack’s prostate. Dr. Readal said Haack’s case is the perfect example of how healthcare providers screen for prostate cancer, identify it and cure it at an early stage.

“I guess, in all, it was a good thing we moved here because we probably wouldn’t have gone in for a different blood test unless I needed a doctor,” said Haack.

Prostate cancer rarely causes symptoms unless it’s very advanced. That’s why it’s so important to get the screenings done. The general guidelines recommend starting screening for prostate cancer at age 50 or as early as 40 if you have a first-degree relative who has had prostate cancer.

After his cancer diagnosis in December 2020, Haack had some decisions to make. He appreciated how Dr. Readal presented all the options and then left it up to him to choose what was right for himself.

“I chose the surgery because all indication was that it was all in my prostate. I had tests performed to make sure it wasn’t spreading into my bones or any other organs,” explained Haack.

For Haack, it was a quick process. He was in the hospital for 36 hours and released 24 hours after he was in recovery. He was able to walk his dog one week after the surgery.

Dr. Readal credits Dave’s smooth recovery to his good health. Additionally, SCL Health – St. James Healthcare offers a state-of-the-art robotic-assisted surgical system in the operating room to improve patient outcomes and recovery time.

The da Vinci surgical system enables doctors to make smaller incisions and do surgery with greater precision. In robotic-assisted surgery, a specially trained surgeon, like Dr. Readal, sits at a console and performs surgery using robotic arms that move in more ways than a human wrist moves. The da Vinci “robot” allows the surgeon to make exact, complex motions and access areas of the body that would not be possible without the robot.

Robotic-assisted surgery is considered minimally invasive, which means it doesn’t require the large incisions used for traditional – or open – surgery. The smaller incisions used in robotic surgery often mean smaller scars, less pain, and faster healing. In addition, this technology makes it possible for many patients to go home from the hospital more quickly than they would with traditional surgery.

Nate Readal, MD, SCL Health Medical Group - Butte Urology

I love being able to take care of patients in Butte. They’re happy to stay in their community, and they’re happy to be able to get world-class care within their community. St. James and SCL health focus on investing in services, like the surgical robot, that will keep care close to home for our patients while providing the same level of care that major hospitals offer.

Nate Readal, MD, SCL Health Medical Group - Butte Urology

“That was a big support too, to have the family here,” added Haack. “If I had been in Georgia, there wouldn’t have been anybody except my wife to help take care of me. This way, I had additional family nearby to help out.”

About 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime. PSA screening is essential for early detection.

“I think the number one thing men need to know about their health is that as we get older, things are going to change. And change is alright. The problem is that many changes are occurring within our body that may go unnoticed to us. As men, we typically wait for dramatic things to happen,” said Dr. Readal. “PSA screening is essential for screening men for their prostate cancer risk. If we waited for prostate cancer to cause symptoms, most men would be diagnosed with advanced disease and essentially have an incurable illness.”

Haack is grateful for his early diagnosis and the swift action of his care team.

“It’s a gut-wrenching experience when they tell you you got cancer, and it’s hard to accept,” Haack said. “But we did everything the right way to get it out of my body. I’ve been very impressed with Dr. Readal and his team. For now, it looks like the cancer has been stopped, and I can go on with life."

Local News Coverage: NBC Montana

About St. James Healthcare

St. James Healthcare is the largest and only acute care health care facility in southwest Montana. Serving the region for more than 135 years, St. James Healthcare is a 67-bed hospital located in Butte, Montana. St. James Healthcare has more than 450 associates, alongside 100 physicians and advanced care professionals, offering 24-hour care and dozens of progressive specialty services. St. James is part of SCL Health, a nonprofit faith-based health system with 8 hospitals in Colorado and Montana. Together St. James Healthcare, St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, and Holy Rosary Healthcare in Miles City, represent SCL Health Montana. To learn more about St. James Healthcare, visit www.sjh-mt.org.