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Release: March 30, 2000

UI Cancer Center airway treatment helps Lisbon man with lung cancer

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- An Iowan -- a husband, a truck driver, a father -- who is experiencing lung cancer, is now helping educate others about living with the disease, three months after undergoing a special procedure at the University of Iowa Cancer Center.

Myron Evans, 48, a resident of Lisbon, was diagnosed in February 1999 with lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death among men and women. He began a six-week program of radiation and chemotherapy in Cedar Rapids, and while Evans struggled with the effects of the radiation and chemotherapy, he struggled even more with the news that there was little shrinkage in his tumor.

He continued on with another regime and type of chemotherapy, yet his condition worsened quickly. He had great difficulty breathing, causing him to be hospitalized. While still hospitalized, his breathing stopped, and he was placed on a ventilator. After Evans underwent several tests, Darrel Dennis, M.D., a pulmonary physician found a nearly complete blockage of Evans' main breathing tube, explaining his struggle to breathe.

"At that time they had given him between two days to two weeks to live," said his wife, Connie Evans. "They told me there wasn't much they could do there. He either needed to be put on a respirator, and I could keep him on it to help him continue breathing, or I could do nothing."

Connie Evans recalls making a phone call to her pastor, asking for his help in making the decision. Searching for help, Connie again talked with Dennis, who told her of an airway procedure done at the UI Cancer Center.

"I didn't feel that the information they had given me at that time was enough to base my decision on," she said. "But by some grace of God, Myron woke up and said, 'Yes, I want to go to Iowa City,' and it was the best thing that happened to us."

Connie Evans recalls her first meeting with Geoffrey McLennan, M.D., UI associate professor of internal medicine and head of Bronchoscopy Services at the UI Cancer Center. McLennan went to a chalkboard in the room and drew a picture of the lungs and how the blockage occurred in her husband's airway. He explained how the Major Airway Obstruction Group had successfully removed 350 such blockages using a procedure called Endoscopic Airway Surgery (EAS), and McLennan felt this group could remove Evans' blockage with this surgery.

"The service we offer is to clear those blockages out using endoscopic telescopes, either flexible or rigid," McLennan said. "The procedure is not operative in the sense that there are scars and stitches. It's all worked through the nose and mouth to unblock these airways."

While the procedure does not cure cancer, it does increase the quality and comfort of life for the patient.

The UI Cancer Center offers a group of multi-disciplinary specialists who approach patient care as a team. McLennan said an increasing number of health care professionals in Iowa and surrounding states are referring patients diagnosed with lung cancer to the UI Cancer Center for consultation and treatment. Referrals allow patients who require highly specialized treatments, such as those provided by the Major Airway Obstruction Group, to receive the most advanced care available. Patients then continue to be cared for by their hometown physician.

Alan F. Ross, M.D., UI associate professor of anesthesia and anesthetist consultant for the airway group, also helped treat Evans.

"Cases such as Evans' present a challenge given that Evans had lost the entire function of his right lung. The maintenance of breathing is always the highest priority for the anesthesiologist," Ross said. "These cases require your best skills during an operation. As a result, the patient can breathe comfortably without your assistance."

The airway procedure took roughly an hour to complete, and Evans returned home without the need of a ventilator. Although he had a weak voice for several days, his family joked that it may have been a mixed blessing for them.

"When we took him from the hospital in Cedar Rapids to Iowa City, they didn't expect him to come home," said Connie Evans. "When Dr. McLennan told me he would probably go home the next day, we were just in shock. I couldn't believe he was talking about going home, let alone the next day."

She added, "We like the idea of the two hospitals working together for us."

A year since his diagnosis, Evans said he takes things one day at a time. He was able to celebrate his 19th wedding anniversary with Connie, and has time to spend with his children. He continues chemotherapy treatment.

"They call me the miracle-man," he said.

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