Easter brings new life for liver transplant recipient

Photo by Chris Sonnenday, M.D., taken Easter morning.

Photo by Chris Sonnenday, M.D., taken Easter morning.

Easter was already a special day for Nelson and Carole Thulin. The Milford couple was excited to have their three adult children home to spend a meaningful Sunday together, rejoicing in the new life signified by the holiday, and the promise of spring.

This year’s holiday started early, though, with a 1 a.m. phone call: Nelson Thulin, too, would receive the gift of life this year. His new liver was ready, and he needed to head into the hospital for surgery.

“There couldn’t be a better day,” Thulin says. “People were always saying their prayers were with me, and then I spent Easter Sunday in the operating room.”

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For George Magulak, an agonizing wait for a liver transplant

April is Donate Life Month

liver transplant

George Magulak

George Magulak isn’t feeling as well today as he did last August when he was featured in the latest “Wolverines for Life” video promoting organ donation. The Oakland County dentist was diagnosed twelve years ago with primary biliary cirrhosis, an autoimmune disease that has progressed to near-liver failure. Since there aren’t enough available livers for everyone needing a transplant, George is in the heartbreaking position of knowing he needs to be clearly in danger of dying in order to move to the top of the waiting list.

“It’s been a challenge lately. I’m noticeably weaker, less steady on my feet and things are getting worse,” he says. George was Continue reading

The Impact of Cancer on Minorities

Although cancer deaths have declined for both whites and African-Americans living in the United States, African-Americans continue to suffer the greatest burden for each of the most common types of cancer.

April is National Minority Health Month, so we thought that this would be a great time to discuss the impact of cancer on minorities in the United States and what the University of Michigan is doing to address this problem of minorities and cancer health disparities.

Minorities and Cancer Disparities

According to the National Cancer Institute, “cancer health disparities” are defined as “differences in the incidence, prevalence, mortality, and burden of cancer and related adverse health conditions that exist among specific population groups in the United States.”

Complex and interrelated factors contribute to the observed disparities in cancer incidence and death among racial, ethnic and underserved groups. The most obvious factors are associated with a lack of health care coverage and low socioeconomic status. Although cancer deaths have declined for both whites and African-Americans living in the United States, African-Americans continue to suffer the greatest burden for each of the most common types of cancer.

Other examples of the impact of cancer on minorities include:

  • African-American males have the highest incidence and mortality rates for colon, prostate and lung cancers.
  • Cervical cancer incidence is the highest among Hispanic/Latina women when compared to all other ethnic groups.
  • Liver cancer, usually caused by exposure to the hepatitis B virus, disproportionately affects Asian-Americans.
  • American Indians and Alaska Natives continue to have the poorest survival from “all cancers combined” than any other racial group.
  • Poor people are at greater risk of being diagnosed and treated for cancer at late stages of disease.

Research

Research studies, including many performed by University of Michigan investigators such as Lisa Newman, Arden Morris, Christopher Sonnenday and Ken Resnicow, continue to document persistent and significant disparities in access to health care and disease outcomes. Often times, researchers are looking into the impact of factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, geography and socioeconomic status on cancer risk, screening or outcomes. The Cancer Center has a health disparities work group that meets quarterly to collaborate, present their work and share research findings.

Learn more about cancer and disparities among minorities

Other areas of interest include:

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Liver transplant offers new option for rare cancer

Christopher Sonnenday, M.D., M.H.S.

Robert “Buzz” Gehle thought the itchy rash he was experiencing was a recurrence of an earlier case of shingles. But when his doctor saw he was also jaundiced, he immediately knew there was a problem with Gehle’s liver.

Gehle was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma – cancer in the bile duct – in October 2009, and it soon became clear that traditional surgery would not be an option.

Instead, doctors at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center started Gehle on chemotherapy and radiation and ran him through a series of tests to determine if the 65-year-old was otherwise healthy enough for a possible new treatment – liver transplant.

Liver transplantation is often used for cancer that occurs within the liver. But U-M is one of a small number of centers around the country to offer a transplant for cancer of the bile duct, a long tube-like structure that connects the liver to the intestines.

Bile duct cancer can be extremely difficult to remove surgically, and even when surgery is an option, the cancer frequently comes back.

“This is a tumor we have always struggled with,” says Christopher Sonnenday, M.D., M.H.S., assistant professor of surgery at the U-M Medical School. Sonnenday, a transplant surgeon, is part of the Multidisciplinary Liver Tumor Clinic at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“Historically, transplant has not been thought to be a great treatment for cancer. What we’ve learned in recent years is that if you select patients very carefully and find the right patients, those patients can potentially be helped by transplant,” Sonnenday says. Continue reading