Keith White, a retired Boeing engineer and an avid sailor, was undergoing treatment for Paget’s disease when he experienced arm pain lasting several months.
In September 2010, his doctors at Christiana Care diagnosed him with a rare osteosarcoma.
Because of cardiac issues and a pacemaker, White was not a candidate for chemotherapy.
His orthopedic surgeon, Mihir Thacker, M.D., discussed treatment options with White, making sure his patient understood the procedures and risks.
Dr. Thacker told White that one option would save his right arm and maintain some function, but would involve risks of ongoing pain as well as more surgery in the future. A second option was to remove his right arm, collarbone and shoulder, and build a new shoulder.
White says he told Dr. Thacker “there was really no choice,” and opted for the more extensive procedure. He says he was “confident that my team had the expertise and experience” to achieve a favorable outcome.
At the helm of the surgical team was leader, Dr. Thacker, an assistant professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, with extensive training in India, Singapore, Florida and New York. He is the only specialist in Delaware performing orthopedic oncology surgery for adults. Physician’s Assistant Robert Biddle aided in the actual surgery, and also with postoperative care at Christiana Hospital before White transferred to the Center for Rehabilitation at Wilmington Hospital. White is “one of the toughest, most resilient patients I have known,” says Biddle, adding that this was “the first time I had seen this particular procedure involving a rare arm condition.”
Tina Scherer, RN, MSN, one of the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center’s inveterate Nurse Navigators, added her 22 years of oncology nursing experience, including 10 years as liaison with doctors, patients, and their families. She became the “go-to” person when questions arose. Theresa Gillis, M.D., who is board-certified in physical, rehabilitative and pain medicine, rounded out White’s multidisciplinary care team.
Dr. Gillis joined what she refers to as the “caring family” at Helen F. Graham Cancer Center after distinguished years of service at the University of Texas Anderson Cancer Center.
One year after his surgery, White is in good spirits, relatively painfree, and still making progress. He has learned techniques such as tai chi and scar massage for relief of phantom sensations. Frequent walks on inclines and uneven or rough surfaces and other exercises for balance have rounded out his conditioning and accelerated his return to sailing.
‘An Assumption of Wellness’
White’s positive outlook, which Dr. Gillis calls “an assumption of wellness,” has been an important factor in his recovery. She stresses the value of communication with patients, “so they are not feeling adrift.” Despite the loss of his arm and some enduring pain, White describes his care and treatment as an “uplifting and reassuring” experience. For example, he recalls visiting Dr. Thacker for removal of surgical staples. Halfway through the process the surgeon stopped, saying, “We’ll have a rest now,” and put his arm around White’s shoulder. He adds that visits with Dr. Gillis, to review of his daily routines and medication, have provided care and concern for his total wellbeing.
White calls his care “world class,” leading him to a positive outcome and an active future.