At 5 feet 2 inches, Antonella Caruso has always been petite. But when she started suffering from severe abdominal pain after eating, she had trouble keeping her weight above 100 pounds.
Antonella, 35, began experiencing severe stomach pain in late summer 2019. She saw several doctors and underwent countless tests. The only foods she could tolerate were broth, sugar water, and tea. Her skin was sallow, she experienced nausea, and she often felt like she would pass out. Still, she kept going to work, maintaining the façade that everything was fine. Once back home, she was sapped of strength and kept the phone close by to call for help if needed.
A gallbladder attack was initially suspected, but an ultrasound didn’t reveal any gallstones. The Sayreville resident was referred to a gastroenterologist, who performed an endoscopy. He recommended a bland diet to see if the inflammation in her stomach improved, but her symptoms worsened. Another gastroenterologist and her primary care physician said that stress may be the cause. Not satisfied with this explanation, she scoured the internet for answers.
“I am a psychologist,” Antonella explains. “I was not stressed. Something was seriously wrong with my body, not my mental health.”
Then she saw Tina Vazirani, MD, board-certified gastroenterologist on staff at CentraState. Dr. Vazirani also suspected the gallbladder and ordered a specialized scan called a HIDA that images the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, and small intestine. She determined Antonella had a spastic gallbladder and needed surgery to remove it. In November 2020—more than a year after the pain started—surgeon Amit Kharod, MD, removed Antonella’s gallbladder.
During surgery, he found benign polyps in her gallbladder and an artery wrapped around it, contributing to Antonella’s symptoms. Because the surgery was performed laparoscopically, she was able to return home the same day.
“The doctors at CentraState went above and beyond best practices,” says Antonella. “They listened to me and didn’t disregard my opinion.”
“Dysfunctional gallbladder disease often isn’t considered as a diagnosis when someone is young and healthy,” Dr. Kharod explains. “It’s not unusual, though, and should be considered when a patient has digestive issues.”
Antonella is working to regain her strength. Due to residual malnutrition, she suffers from dizziness and rapid blood pressure fluctuations, which cardiologists are monitoring. However, she can eat most foods again and is slowly gaining weight.
“The experience was a harsh reminder that I need to prioritize myself,” she says. “I lived an unbalanced life for so long. Work was my priority, but I’m finally learning to pause and enjoy life.”