It first hit Brian Free four years ago, in Nashville, while he was playing the legendary Grand Ole Opry.
“It felt like someone stuck an ice pick right below my belt line,” says Free, who spends 210 days a year on the road with his award-winning Southern Gospel group, Brian Free and Assurance.
The 47-year-old Winston resident says the pain was severe, but subsided after 15 minutes. The next night it came back with a vengeance, this time with fever and chills. “We were in Columbus, Indiana, and a doctor fan asked if I was feeling alright as I gave him an autograph,” recounts Free. “He convinced me to go to the nearest Emergency Room with him, where an MRI and CT scan revealed I had diverticulitis.”
A Diagnosis of Diverticulitis
About 10 percent of Americans over 40 and more than half over 60 develop small pouches called diverticula that protrude from the lining of the colon or large intestine. It was once thought that foods containing seeds plugged, irritated and inflamed these pouches, leading to severe abdominal cramping and the condition called diverticulitis. But, today, experts believe there is no proven reason to avoid these foods.
William A. Griffith, Jr., M.D., F.A.C.S., of WellStar Douglas Surgical Associates, confirmed Free’s diagnosis. “Dr. Griffith said if I was having bouts more than twice a year, I needed surgery,” explains Free. “When I saw him in August of 2009, I had begun having more frequent and more painful episodes – in fact, I had had five in
the last two years.”
Dr. Griffith initially treated Free with antibiotics, but in October, the pain returned. “That’s when Dr. Griffith said part of my colon needed to come out,” says Free. “He explained that if my colon were to burst – my body would be filled with bacteria, and my organs would start shutting down.”
Free says his singing group only takes one “serious” break, and it’s in December. And last year, they were scheduled to perform in Canada on New Year’s Eve. So, though six weeks was the recommended recovery period, he knew he could only spend two weeks recuperating.
Short Stay, Quick Recovery
Thanks to the minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery offered at WellStar Douglas Hospital, Free spent only two nights in the hospital and was able to keep his demanding performance schedule. He had his surgery at WellStar Douglas on December 15, was home December 17, and hit the road for Canada on December 30.
Dr. Griffith, assisted by Ganesh P. Pandya, M.D., also of WellStar Douglas Surgical Associates, removed nearly 12 inches of Free’s colon during the 90 minute surgery. “I had five incisions with the largest only being one and a half inches,” says Free. “And I was amazed to learn we all have five feet of colon – and we only need eight inches – so I still have plenty to spare.”
With traditional, open surgery, Free would have had much larger incisions – which would have necessitated a five-day hospital stay and at least six weeks of at-home recovery time.
On the Road Again: Free to Enjoy Music and Family
Free says returning to work so soon was challenging, and that he didn’t regain his strength for two to three months, but he hasn’t missed a single performance. “The show must go on,” he laughs.
“I wish I’d had the surgery a year or two earlier,” says Free. “I have no reservations recommending WellStar Douglas Hospital to anyone who needs surgery.”
“And I was impressed with Dr. Griffith from the first time I met him. He’s kind, but professional – down to earth, and never in a hurry. He always answered all my questions and put me at ease.”
After his surgery, Free says Dr. Griffith told him he could eat anything he wanted. “I said, ‘Praise God!’” laughs Free, who had been adhering to a no-seed diet before being referred to Dr. Griffith. Free is happy to now be able to enjoy his music and his family. Though Free, who is in his 29th year of professional Gospel singing, is devoted to his music, his first priority is always his wife, Pam, and sons, Ricky and Bryce. Free can be seen on the Gospel Music Channel every Saturday at 11 p.m. and Sunday at 8 a.m. He travels all over the world with his quartet, and has been called “undeniably the most recognizable Southern Gospel tenor of our generation.”