A Hamilton first puts David back on his game
Longtime Spectator reader David Hector was getting in the car the other day in his tennis whites, racquet tucked under his arm, going off to play as he loves to do.
It was an encouraging sight. The 83year-old had undergone major surgery two years ago to address a diagnosis of lung cancer.
They took out two of the lungs’ five lobes, one from each lung, trying to get at it all. They thought maybe they had. But when he went for his all-clear, they found a few more “spots.”
Even more than the cancer, the thought of another surgery — the painful recovery, the followup — had him understandably chapfallen.
He never wanted to go through that again. Then something happened. Cancer Care Ontario approved funding for focal tumour ablation in cases of lung cancer.
And as fate would have it (moving hitherto unrelated lives into docking position), the brilliant Dr. Sriharsha Athreya, a marksman with an image-guided RFA probe, found David’s name on his list of patients.
In due course, another operation was scheduled. This one, in June, was being done in the new angio IR suite in the Boris Family Centre for Interventional Radiology and Oncology at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
David, having been through lung surgery once before, went in eyes wide open. You’d think he’d be terrified. Uh uh. This was different.
He literally had his eyes wide open, under conscious sedation, awake the entire time.
It lasted under two hours. David, a retired Hamilton accountant who worked for Ernst & Young, went home the same day. No pain. No real recovery regimen. He went about his life. He’s playing tennis. Travelling to Europe. Nothing like the first surgery.
“I think they said it’s the first one ever done,” David says of the operation, as I pass him on the sidewalk, asking: “Didn’t you just go through surgery?” (See, he’s not just a reader; he’s my neighbour.) “You should do a story on it. More people should know,” David says to me.
It was a “first-ever” in Hamilton. On a lung. And is he ever glad it was him.
Here’s what happened. Athreya manipulated a radio-frequency ablation probe (RFA), basically a superfine needle, into David’s lung, under “image guidance” (X-ray screening, CT scan and such).
When he got the needle at the tumour sites, he pressed the plunger to activate the radiating tips; they came out the end like hair-width grappling hooks or spider legs. A radio-frequency current then heated those tips, enabling them to “burn” the tumour away.
Image-guided focal tumour ablation is an example of many interventional radiology procedures. Sometimes it’s referred to as pinhole surgery.
“Technically, it’s not surgery,” says Sriharsha, who is nonetheless a trained surgeon, “but the results are similar.”
Cheaper, less traumatic and doable without the patient being put under. It is a day-case procedure, he says. The limitation is that it can’t be used on tumours over three or four centimetres.
“We’ve been doing this at St. Joe’s for 10 years on kidney cancer,” but only this year did Cancer Care Ontario approve funding for lung cancer.
Originally from Bangalore, in the Indian state of Karnataka, Sriharsha is the son of a surgeon. And when he was studying in Glasgow, Scotland, he became fascinated by interventional radiology.
He had thought about working in Scotland but a friend mentioned Canada, one thing led to another, and now he’s been here eight years.
“We are so fortunate to have such a great team, all of them,” he says of St. Joe’s. “Thoracic surgeons, urologists, oncologists who support the ablation program, the medical radiation technologists and nurses. And we are so indebted to the Boris family.”
The Boris family’s donations have made possible the acquisition of the most advanced 3-D imaging and radiology equipment, housed in the newly opened Boris Family Centre for Interventional Radiology.
The rooms in the centre, where Athreya, Dr. Maurice Voss, Dr. Oleg Mironov and their colleagues do their IR procedures, feature enormous movable scanning gantries and overhead flat-screen monitors on pivoting arms, which show the operators the inside of the body they’re working on.
On the ceiling are fluorescent panels with clouds and other calming images the patient can look at while this is going on.
I don’t know what David saw. Maybe Wimbledon highlights.
He’s probably serving an ace somewhere as you read this.
Advantage, us. Our Hamilton, city of waterfalls ... and hospitals.
Dr.Sriharsha Athreya used a radiofrequency ablation probe to remove tumours from David Hector’s lungs.
David Hector is playing tennis.