Discovering some of the nation’s most innovative and successful care is near home.
For Dan Mabbott, 65, St. Jude Medical Center was something he drove past on his way to see his doctor at the St. Jude Medical Plaza. “I was happy the hospital was here, I just didn’t think I’d need it,” explains the retired mechanic.
But then a routine X-ray of his shoulder revealed a diagnosis the nonsmoker never expected: stage 4 lung cancer which had spread to his ribs, hip and spine. A diagnosis that comes with a less than 5 percent survival rate.
The Whittier resident would ultimately have a long, hard-to-fill wish list: a top-quality oncologist familiar with new breakthroughs in care, a thoracic surgeon (one of a handful in the state) with the skill to successfully perform robotic lung surgery, an orthopedic surgeon experienced in minimally-invasive hip replacement, and an expert neurosurgeon to preserve his spine. Also on the list: a cutting-edge clinical trial program that could offer him access to today’s most innovative and aggressive therapies.
All of which he found at St. Jude Medical Center, one of the very few hospitals in the nation capable of offering the diverse and sophisticated level of care he needed.
“At every step, there was another doctor at the top of their field ready to help,” he explains. “It was an amazing experience, not just because of the skill, but because of the genuine compassion and commitment. From the first moment, it was like I was their only patient.”
With Sanjay Sharma, MD, a highly respected board-certified oncologist, overseeing each step of his care, Dan began a series of advanced immunotherapies and chemotherapies — some experimental — to reduce the size of the tumors. State-of-the-art robotic surgery was used to remove the tumor in his lung, a surgery performed by Daniel Oh, MD, a national expert in transforming lung cancer surgery and patient outcomes through minimally-invasive techniques. Young Lee, MD, board-certified and highly-skilled in radiation oncology, provided stereotactic radiation therapy, a newer and more precise form of radiation provided scalpel-like precision in eradicating the tumors near his spine. Minimally-invasive surgery to replace his hip joint — and remove the bone damaged by cancer — was performed by Karen Evensen, MD, a board-certified orthopedic expert who specializes in hip replacement. Lars Anker, MD, an experienced board-certified neurosurgeon, provided evaluation and treatment of his spine.
It was a powerhouse of expertise, technology and compassion that created the desired result. Dan’s cancer has been decimated and he is back to babysitting his grandchildren and taking 400-mile trips on his motorcycle with friends.
“We put together an aggressive, creative and multidisciplinary approach to achieve a truly remarkable outcome for Dan and his family,” explains Dr. Sharma, who says Dan’s care involved breakthroughs in areas from surgery to radiation oncology to immunology. “His case reflects the commitment and expertise that is allowing us to redefine ‘untreatable.'"
Both Dan and his wife, Sally, agree that the level of care he received was beyond all their expectations. But there are a few more minor things they disagree on: Sally says his faith is stronger now, but Dan says it was already strong — he just learned to lean on God a little more. Sally believes he came out of the experience more compassionate, but Dan says it’s not that he’s more compassionate — he just stopped letting a lack of time or inconvenience get in the way. “God used some amazing doctors and you definitely live your life a little differently after being blessed like that,” he says.
Today, Dan remains on a novel, biologic therapy to maintain the dramatic decline of his disease and to control any smaller tumors that may appear in the future. But he leaves the big picture in God’s hands — and all the details in Dr. Sharma’s hands — and he focuses on a life that is once again filled with family, church, friends — and motorcycles.
“Dan’s care was simply unbelievable and because of it, he has stepped back into his life,” explains Sally, who was at Dan’s side for every moment. “When someone mentions moving out of the area, my response is always the same: I’m not moving anywhere that takes us away from this hospital. St. Jude is where we belong.”
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.