By Kay Quinn, Healthbeat Reporter
KSDK -- A medical milestone was occurred in St. Louis on April 27 as NewsChannel Five's Kay Quinn used the online, micro-blogging service Twitter to report from inside an operating room.
This is the story of the patient, the procedure and the amazing power of social networking to inform and educate.
"If you know me, well you know I'm not a very private person," said Erin Kelley, a patient with Cushing's Disease, a hormone disorder caused by a tumor on her pituitary gland, which is located behind the sinuses.
Kelley, 28, is married and is the mother of four-year-old Jrue and stepmother to eight-year-old Tommy. Kelley is also development manager at Thrive St. Louis. As her stack of medical records show, Cushing's has created a host of health problems for Kelley.
"When I went into the newest endocrinologist that I went to at Barnes," said Kelley. "I brought him a list of symptoms I have that was two typed pages long."
The worst of these symptoms being fatigue and weight gain. Removing the part of the pituitary that makes too much cortisol can relieve symptoms. And Kelley planned to have that type of surgery.
She's been blogging about it and agreed to allow NewsChannel 5 to report from the operating room on her progress, not just on television but on Twitter.
"I'm hoping through that documenting process that it will help me, but also help other people going through it," Kelley said.
The day of the operation, Erin was under anesthetic and being prepped for surgery. NewsChannel 5's Kay Quinn logged onto Twitter and watched through the window of an adjoining control room.
Twitter allows users to send and read updates known as Tweets. A single message can't be more than 140 characters in length.
The first few tweets talked about Erin's Cushing's disease and the neurosurgery she was about to undergo. A team of surgeons went through her right nostril and sinus to reach the left side of her pituitary gland.
Otolaryngologist Dr. Richard Chole performed the first part of the operation. Then neurosurgeon Dr. Ralph Dacey removed the left half of the gland itself.
"(Dr. Dacey's) now gotten through the bone," said Dr. Chole. "That's a hurdle to go over here. We were worried we may have to drill away the bone a few minutes ago but we don't have to do that."
The trickiest part was avoiding the carotid arteries that run along either side of the gland.
"It's going fine," Dr. Chole said.
In the first two hours of the surgery, Kay Quinn sent out more than 80 tweets. Kelley's family followed the progress from laptop computers on the tenth floor of the hospital. But the hospital's system prevented them from sending out any tweets. Erin's husband, Craig, and the rest of her family were glued to the Twitter updates.
Meanwhile, back in the operating room, Dr. Dacey removed a milky white nodule from the left side of Erin's pituitary gland, and sent it off to the lab. The entire operation took about four hours.
Fast forward to May 6.
"I've lost 14 pounds since last month," said Kelley. "It just doesn't feel like my body is as swollen anymore. I can almost get my wedding ring on which I haven't been able to do for about eight months."
She's on bed rest for the next week or so, but Kelley said she already feels a difference, is amazed at the number of people who followed her progress on Twitter, and loves being a pioneer of Twitter surgery.
"I just felt really comfortable," said Kelley. "They were concerned about whether I'd be worried about real time Twittering and there wasn't a minute where I hesitated because I had the best two doctors to do what they were doing, and then have you (Kay) be the Twitterer of the whole thing, was pretty neat."
Check out Kay Quinn's Twitter updates and see if you agree.