The University of Colorado Department of Surgery had an excellent year in 2022. We posted more than 75 great stories that highlighted the research, patient care, and education done this year by faculty, students, researchers, and staff in the department.
Here are the top stories of 2022 for the CU Department of Surgery:
6 Years After Bile Duct Cancer Diagnosis, Focus Shifts to Not Wasting Time
Jim White was seen by the CU Cancer Center's multidisciplinary care team, which includes Richard Schulick, MD, MBA, director of the CU Cancer Center and chair of the Department of Surgery at the CU School of Medicine. "Jim’s diagnosis was bile duct cancer, which is rarer than pancreas cancer,” explained Schulick. “The head of the pancreas and the bile duct occupy the exact same space, so if a cancer develops in one it can give the exact same symptoms as the other."
White says he’s had a lot of time to think in the more than six years since his cancer diagnosis. Of all the lessons cancer has taught him, he says, one of the most important has been to take care of his mental health and to appreciate each moment as it comes.
Living Organ Donation Journey Inspires Doctor to Normalize the Experience for Others
At first, she was reluctant to talk about it. The obvious question was, “Why are you doing this?” The simplest explanation that Rachel Davis, MD, associate professor of psychiatry in the CU School of Medicine and vice chair of clinical affairs, could give for donating more than 50% of her liver to a stranger is that she wanted to and she was able to.
Two days of tests and evaluations preceded the actual surgery, and on January 19, transplant surgeon Elizabeth Pomfret, MD, PhD, professor and chief of transplant surgery in the CU Department of Surgery, removed the right lobe of Davis’ liver – about 55% of the organ.
Olivia Newton-John Dies After 30-Year Breast Cancer Battle
After a 30-year, off-and-on battle with metastatic breast cancer, Australian-born actress and singer Olivia Newton-John died on August 8 at age 73. Best known for her role as Sandy in the 1978 movie musical “Grease,” Newton-John also hit the music charts with singles like “Physical” and “Magic.”
According to CNN, Newton-John was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, after which she underwent a partial mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and breast reconstruction . The cancer went into remission but returned in 2013 as a tumor in her shoulder. The cancer resurfaced again in 2017 as a tumor at the base of the singer’s spine.
That length of time between recurrences is not uncommon with breast cancer, says Nicole Christian, MD, assistant professor of surgical oncology, especially low-grade estrogen-positive breast cancer, which tends to be less aggressive. Prolonged periods of healthy remission of the disease, only to see it return elsewhere in the body, can happen.
A Better Understanding of Survival Rates for Lung Transplant Recipients
For John Iguidbashian, MD, and Alejandro Suarez-Pierre, MD, general surgery residents in the Department of Surgery at the CU School of Medicine, the research started as a way to give patients who were eligible for lung transplants more accurate information about their life expectancy after the surgery.
“We were constantly counseling patients who needed lung transplants, and it was pretty obvious that the main thing they wanted to know is what their life would look like after the transplant and how long they would live,” Iguidbashian says. “All the papers that had already been written were giving 10-year survival rates, but nobody really studied how that compared to a general population that hadn’t received lung transplants.”
“One in a Billion Odds”
In August 2020, Mario Carrasco got what he suspected was COVID-19 and took Tylenol to combat his high fever. When that didn’t work, he took an antibiotic he had received from Mexico and eventually felt better. For several months afterward, he felt fine. He felt like he always does.
But then his stomach started hurting. During a visit to Montrose Memorial Hospital, physicians informed him that his liver enzymes were high, indicating inflammation. And he quickly got worse, to the point that he was flown to UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora.
“The likelihood of getting a transplant the same day you’re put on the list is extremely rare, almost unheard of,” says Elizabeth Pomfret, MD, PhD, chief of transplant surgery in the CU Department of Surgery.
Explaining PSA Numbers
Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is a protein produced by the prostate gland. The PSA test is a blood test used to measure the amount of this protein found in the blood. Results are reported (ng/mL), which means nanograms of PSA per milliliter of blood. High levels of PSA have been found in men with advanced prostate cancer.
The PSA test has been around since the mid-1980s, when it was first used as a monitoring tool for prostate cancer. In the early 1990s, it was approved as an appropriate screening tool to help early prostate cancer detection. It is common for men to have no symptoms during early prostate cancer.
“The PSA screening test helps to detect abnormalities in the blood that may indicate further testing is needed,” explains Paul Maroni, MD, associate professor of surgical urology in the CU Department of Surgery.
Bob Saget’s Death from Accidental Head Trauma Brings Awareness of Signs to Look for Following Head Injury
Comedian Bob Saget’s death on January 9 was a shock to fans. His family has since announced that an autopsy revealed his cause of death was accidental head trauma, likely the result of an unwitnessed fall. No illegal drugs or toxins were found in his system.
Since this announcement, a lot of discussion has turned to the common occurrence of hitting your head and how to know when it’s serious enough to seek medical attention. We spoke with Michael Cripps, MD, associate professor of GI, trauma, and endocrine surgery and trauma medical director, about the things to know if you hit your head.
Nurturing a Passion for Medicine That Was Born in the Midst of War
Almost a decade into his medical career, amid the daily traumas of war, Mohammed Al-Musawi, MD, began to love his job.
At the time, during 2004 and 2005, Al-Musawi, a research instructor of cardiothoracic surgery in the CU Department of Surgery, was chief resident of cardiothoracic surgery at a hospital in central Baghdad, Iraq. Every day, casualties from explosions and violence roiling the country flooded into the hospital, and Al-Musawi and his colleagues rushed to save lives.
Multi-Faceted Treatment Helps Young Breast Cancer Patient Through Her Cancer Journey
Amanda Vegter did not have time for whatever it was that she felt on the side of her left breast.
But that firm spot she first felt on her breast in January 2021 while working out at her boyfriend’s house didn’t just go away. Now she can look back and shake her head – of course it was breast cancer. She was only 35, though. She was busy. She had plans.
And because of aggressive, multidisciplinary care that has included cutting-edge microsurgery performed by Justin Cohen, MD, assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery, she still has plans.
Clinical Trial Allows Participants to Avoid an Ileostomy During Surgery for Rectal Cancer
After the chemotherapy and radiation treatments, when she was discussing necessary surgery with her UCHealth Cancer Center care team, Irma Lechuga learned her rectal cancer surgery would include creation of a temporary ileostomy.
While she was still having chemotherapy treatments, though, she’d learned about a study being led locally by Jon Vogel, MD, a professor of GI, trauma, and endocrine surgery. The ongoing study’s aim is to compare the Colospan CG-100 Intraluminal bypass device to a diverting stoma, the current standard of care for colorectal surgery.
For Lechuga, the decision to become the first participant in the CU Anschutz Medical Campus study site was straightforward.