'Eat a steak the same day': New tonsil procedure at MUHC short, mostly painless

Dr. Sam Daniel demonstrates the surgery with a strawberry.

MONTREAL -- Getting tonsils removed has long been considered a slow, painful procedure – and can even be traumatizing for some people.

Healing from a tonsillectomy could take weeks and often comes after repeated infections or breathing-related illnesses.

Most often performed on children, patients have to stick to a cold, liquid diet during recovery. And it's not without its concerns; of the 5,000 Quebec children who undergo tonsillectomies annually, five per cent face complications. Five deaths have been recorded since 2004.

That could soon become a thing of the past.

A short, almost painless procedure is making its way to the province. The Montreal Children's Hospital is part of the pilot project, first developed in the U.K.

In the new technique, surgeons use a specially-designed wand to remove layers of tissues at a low temperature. It's considerably less invasive and less painful for the child.

"In the old days, we used to physically dissect the tonsil from the surrounding muscles using a variety of tools. This explains the pain, including more bleeding," explained Dr. Sam Daniel, a pediatric otolaryngologist at the MUHC. "What is new is we stay inside the capsule or envelope – the wrapping of the tonsils – and then we shave it down all the way to the muscles without violating the muscles and the blood vessels." Most children can return to school or daycare a few days later.

Nine-year-old Cynthia Rancy had no side effects from her procedure and woke up pain-free.

"Our doctor said she was free to eat a steak the same day she had her operation," said her father, Herod Rancy.

The MUHC intends to apply the procedure to 400 children and gather data on the patients' recovery with a goal of one day replacing the old, painful operation, with this new painless procedure.