With tears of thankfulness and surprise, 32-year-old Sarah Pieper and her family were recently treated to a red-carpet celebration and caregiver reunion at Trident Medical Center. For the mother of three, which includes her healthy infant son, the day was in doubt seven months earlier. It was at that time she was eight weeks pregnant and diagnosed by the experienced surgeons at Head & Neck Specialists with an aggressive cancer on her tongue.
Holding her baby just a few minutes after the celebration, Sarah said, “There were times I didn’t think I would make it to his birthday. This celebration brings forth a lot of emotions. All are good ones.”
Sarah and her baby’s story of survival includes the determined work of Head & Neck Specialists radiation oncologist Anand Sharma, MD, and head and neck surgeons David Neskey, MD, FACS and Peter Horwich, MD, FRCSC, alongside Trident Cancer Center physicists Frank Pazik, DABR, and Michael Ohm, DABR. Through their combined expertise, a plan was developed that allowed Sarah to safely receive lifesaving surgery and radiation while protecting her unborn child.
For Head & Neck Specialists surgeon Terry Day, MD, FACS, Sarah’s story of recovery highlights the team’s approach to multidisciplinary, patient-centered care that he and his colleagues have provided for more than 25 years. Dr. Day is currently the national director of head and neck oncology at the Sarah Cannon Research Institute in Nashville, inaugural chair of the South Carolina Cancer Alliance and a former president of the American Head and Neck Society.
“I believe one of the key aspects of our practice is the personalized attention from our multidisciplinary team that each patient receives. And the close communication between our team and the patient’s hometown doctors from around the United States provides realistic and comprehensive care that is customized to each patient’s needs,” Dr. Day said.
The physicians at Head & Neck Specialists provide innovative and compassionate treatment for advanced, recurrent and complex head and neck cancers, cancers that were treated but didn’t go away and cancers that spread to other parts of the body.
Head & Neck Specialists and the multidisciplinary team of surgeons, radiation doctors, dentists and speech therapists, who are all in one location, provide the latest treatment for complicated cancers of the head and neck region, including those of skin, mouth, throat, sinuses and nose, thyroid and parathyroid glands. Treatments include the use of advanced minimally-invasive robotic surgery for HPV-related throat cancer, which is described as an epidemic in the United States.
Head and neck surgeon Jeffrey Houlton, MD, explained, “Our team has experts in transoral robotic surgery (TORS) to remove cancers in the mouth and throat, in which a sophisticated, computer-enhanced system is used to guide the surgical tools. TORS gives the surgeon an enhanced view of the cancer and surrounding tissue. We also have surgeons who specialize in complex microvascular reconstruction, which uses 3D modeling.”
Some aspects of cancer care can be done locally in the patient’s hometown. But, according to Dr. Neskey, “They decide to travel to our center for complex head and neck surgery, reconstruction and radiation. Together, we coordinate with their hometown doctors for overall treatment planning and checkups.”
Oncologic dentist Betsy Davis, DMD, MS, has earned a lifetime achievement award from the American Academy of Maxillofacial Prosthetics. She considers head and neck cancer to be the most devastating cancer because it can’t be hidden under clothing.
“We live in a world where we are often judged by our appearance. My colleagues and I work to make a difference in how our patients look, eat, talk, chew and swallow. I believe our work is about function, quality of life and restoring the whole patient. I love what I do.”
Dr. Davis and her team use 3D printing, skin-matching technology and other types of artificial intelligence to create prosthetic and artificial eyes, ears, noses and other parts of the head and neck.
“Post-surgical facial defects and deformities can have pro found effects on how patients eat, speak, socialize and express themselves, striking at the core of their identity,” stated head and neck surgeon Dr. Horwich. “Following head and neck cancer treatment, facial reconstructive surgery can restore both function and form.”
Brad Neville, DDS is a nationally-known oral pathologist who has been editor of a primary textbook used by U.S. dental schools on the subject. He is an expert on mouth lesions, pre cancer of the tongue and mouth and managing the impact of cancer treatment on the mouth.
Head and neck surgeon Eric Lentsch, MD, FACS said the practice is thoughtful of its patients’ time, especially during their first visit to the practice.
“For our patients, we have created a seamless process with the goal of providing a full day of dental, speech, surgery, radiation and treatment evaluation all under one roof.”
Head and neck surgeon Joshua Hornig, MD, FRCSC explained further, “The team approach lets us expedite care – and cure – and eliminate the risks to patients that happen when they have to try to navigate their own health needs that may delay treatment for weeks or months as they arrange appointments at multiple locations with multiple specialists.”
Head & Neck Specialists is located at 9228 Medical Plaza Drive, Charleston, SC 29406. It’s located on the Trident Medical Center campus. For more information go to www.yourheadandneckspecialists.com.
By Rod Whiting