Vietnam Veteran Wins Cancer Fight with Help from Houston VA
The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) is one of the few hospitals nationwide offering Transanal Endoscopic Microsurgery (TEM), a minimally invasive alternative to radical abdominal surgery for the excision of certain rectal polyps and early stage rectal tumors.
Marine Veteran Leland Parker, 64, discovered he had rectal cancer after a routine fecal occult blood test and colonoscopy at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center. Serving 13 months in Vietnam (1967-1968) with the 3rd Marine Division, Parker believes he has angels watching over him.
“I had quite a few close calls in Vietnam and lost some good buddies,” said Parker, the great grandson of Quanah Parker, the last chief of the Quahada Comanche Indians. “After Vietnam, I had a bad car accident and almost died. When I heard about the cancer, I didn’t let it bother me.”
The American Cancer Society reports that colorectal cancer, defined as cancer that starts in the large intestine or the rectum, affects more than 103,000 Americans each year. Colorectal cancer is currently the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Bee Gees' Robin Gibb, Audrey Hepburn, Eartha Kitt, and Milton Berle all died from colorectal cancer. While more adults are being screened, one in three adults still ignore the disease.
TEM has revolutionized the treatment of this type of cancer. Performed through the rectum with specially designed microsurgical instruments, TEM has made it possible to excise lesions high inside the rectum that otherwise would be accessible only by major abdominal surgery.
“While not appropriate for every patient with rectal cancer, the benefits of TEM for patients with early cancers or pre-cancers can be dramatic compared to radical rectal resection,” said Staff Surgical Oncologist Avo Artinyan, M.D., who is also an assistant professor of Surgery/Surgical Oncology at Baylor College of Medicine. “No abdominal surgery, no large incision or scar, no intra-abdominal infections, no risk of hernia, no temporary or permanent colostomy, no leaks, almost no discomfort, faster recovery, and a shorter hospital stay.
Performed under general anesthesia, TEM is a relatively painless method of completely removing abnormal rectal growths from inside the rectum. Dissolvable suture and clips are either absorbed or expelled from the body naturally, so there is no need for follow-up suture removal.
“I was only in the hospital overnight and didn’t even know I had surgery when I woke up,” said Parker, who enjoys wood carving and playing the flute. “The nurses were great, took care of me, and really did their job. I can’t say enough about Dr. Artinyan and his expertise. Everyone told me the Houston VA was the best place.”
TEM requires a minimal access surgeon who possesses advanced laparoscopic skills since it is a technically demanding form of endoscopic surgery performed in a very confined space.
“It is immensely gratifying we are able to save the lives of our Nation’s heroes like Mr. Parker,” said Samir S. Awad, M.D., Operative Care Line executive and associate professor of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine. “We are proud the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center has some of the best doctors and nurses in the country and offers the latest, minimally invasive alternatives for our Veterans.”
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