Oak Lawn Resident is the First to Receive Breakthrough Liver Cancer Treatment at Little Company of Mary Hospital

Jerry McElwee feeling great after receiving liver-directed radioembolization

In December 2014, 79-year-old Jerry McElwee woke up after four days in Little Company of Mary Hospital’s (LCMH) ICU and was told that he had been diagnosed with liver cancer, with a highly unlikely chance of survival.

McElwee, of the Oak Lawn community, fell ill a few days into a trip to California and had to leave early from celebrating his son’s 50th birthday. After arriving in Chicago, he came to the Emergency Room (ER) at LCMH and was transferred to the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU). On December 12, 2014, McElwee was diagnosed with a rare liver cancer.

McElwee’s multidisciplinary team of physicians, including Dr. M. Bassel Atassi, Medical Oncologist at LCMH, and Dr. Hamid Nazeer, Interventional Radiologist at LCMH, worked together to create a successful treatment plan. Dr. Atassi, who has a special interest and expertise in the field, underwent two years of research fellowship at Northwestern University looking into liver cancer therapies, specifically radioembolization. After a consultation with Dr. Atassi, McElwee was one found to be a suitable candidate and became the first patient to receive radioembolization treatment – a therapy used to treat rare liver tumors – at LCMH, which was performed by Dr. Nazeer.

“Unlike traditional external beam radiation therapy, in which high-energy x-ray beams are directed at the tumor from outside the body, radioembolization involves the injection of small microspheres directly into the tumor,” said Dr. Nazeer. “Each sphere contains the radioactive isotope Yttrium-90 and becomes lodged into the tumor blood vessels, where they emit their local radiation and cause tumor cells to die.”

Radioembolization is often considered a palliative, not curative, treatment, but patients often benefit by extending and improving their quality of life.

“I feel absolutely fantastic,” said McElwee. “Dr. Nazeer stayed with me through everything,” McElwee said, explaining how Nazeer made him feel comfortable throughout his experience. “He takes personal care of his patients.” Besides his weekly appointments, McElwee says his life is essentially normal again, without any negative side effects. He was even able to go home the day of the procedure.

McElwee feels that both Dr. Nazeer and Dr. Atassi are genuinely concerned with his health, and that they treat him as if he is their own family member. “The care I received at LCMH was unlike the care I have received anywhere in my lifetime,” McElwee said. “I am beyond grateful.”

Dr. M. Bassel Atassi, medical oncologist at LCMH, Jerry McElwee, and Dr. Hamid Nazeer, interventional radiologist at LCMH

Dr. M. Bassel Atassi, medical oncologist at LCMH, Jerry McElwee, and Dr. Hamid Nazeer, interventional radiologist at LCMH

Eight weeks after the procedure, Dr. Atassi states that the active cancer in his liver has been greatly reduced. So far, this outpatient treatment has had excellent, life-saving results and spares the side effects of other systematic therapies. “Little Company of Mary’s cancer team collaborates with many different clinical specialties to create a comprehensive treatment plan that is personalized for each patient,” said Dr. Atassi. “This often includes the use of state-of-the-art technology that is offered here at LCMH.”

Today, McElwee lives his life to the fullest with his wife of 54 years, Arlene, and three sons. With his health intact, he continues to participate in the hobbies he loves, such as unwinding in his garage and riding his motorcycle.

Little Company of Mary’s Cancer Center is nationally accredited by the American College of Surgeon’s Commission on Cancer. The Center offers highly skilled cancer specialists, including an affiliation with the medical oncologist group at the University of Chicago Hospitals. The Center brings all aspects of cancer care together to offer promising new treatments and journeys with patients from diagnosis through survivorship. To learn more about The Center, log on to www.LCMCancerCare.org. To be matched with one of our clinical experts or to find out if you are a candidate for radioembolization treatment, call 708.423.3070.

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