UF ENT grows regional expertise in head and neck microvascular reconstruction
Quality patient care and education serve as the foundation for excellence
Feb. 3, 2023 — At the University of Florida College of Medicine, the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery boasts well-established expertise in treating the most complex ear, nose and throat conditions and training tomorrow’s leaders in the field. With over 33,000 clinical visits, 3,200 surgeries performed and a 100% board pass rate for residents each year, faculty, staff and trainees are dedicated to the highest-quality care, education and research.
The division of head and neck surgical oncology and microvascular reconstructive surgery is one branch of the department where this excellence has diligently grown and positively impacted the community and region for years.
Around Gainesville, there are corridors with a higher prevalence of cancers, especially head and neck cancer, than other parts of the country, according to Peter T. Dziegielewski, M.D., FRCSC, FACS, chief of the division of head and neck surgical oncology and microvascular reconstructive surgery at UF. Over the past decade, he and his colleagues, Brian Hughley, M.D., FACS; Dustin Conrad, M.D., FRCSC; and Deepa Danan, M.D., FACS, medical director of the UF Health Shands Hospital head and neck surgical oncology clinic, have helped to lead their field in a new direction. With their expertise, patients not only have their cancers removed but also have any defects delicately repaired and reconstructed with long-term care established to restore the best possible quality of life and function — including speech, swallowing and more — after surgery.
“Being in North Central Florida, we’re in a unique area where we see patients from every walk of life,” Dziegielewski said. “We definitely experience some high highs and some low lows when dealing with cancer. But we celebrate the wins because that’s what keeps us going, and we’re able to do a lot of good for our patients. In the last 10 years, we’ve built a team of surgeons who can not only remove cancers but also do the whole gamut of reconstruction and whatever the patient needs. So, we’ve really moved into the modern era.”
Microvascular reconstruction involves a transplant from one part of a patient’s body to another, Danan said, such as replacing a segment of jawbone with a bone from the leg or rebuilding a tongue from the forearm. The tissues require a new blood supply to survive, and it takes a very experienced and practiced hand to connect tiny blood vessels to each other using a piece of suture thinner than an eyelash.
“One of the important things that some patients don’t necessarily realize until they go through it is that there’s a big difference in the quality and the convenience of care,” Dziegielewski said. “It might be convenient to get your care close to home, but it’s not going to be the same quality as somewhere with experts who only do that procedure, not just do it once in a while.”
In addition to their passion for improving patients’ lives, Dziegielewski and his team are also dedicated to education. Along with a high surgical volume and teaching ENT residents, rotating medical students and undergraduates, they manage an internationally renowned clinical fellowship, which is now in its fifth year. The division also hosts high school students over the summer who shadow surgeons and learn about the health care field, he said.
“We become better surgeons by training the next generation,” Danan said. “We’re trying to teach the newest techniques, which means we learn the newest techniques. And the trainees are sharing ideas from other surgeons with us, so we all get to learn from each other.”
Moving forward, Dziegielewski and Danan said they hope the division will continue to grow by adapting to new technologies and techniques, increasing patient volumes, furthering clinical research and graduating more trained ENT providers to carry UF’s mission of excellence across the country.