Two articles in last Friday’s edition of The Daily Astorian and some stories sure to appear in coming months tell of some remarkable developments in local and regional health care — advances that make our lives better.
A front-page story detailed the experience of Ronald Paapke of Lewis and Clark, who was saved from a potentially deadly or disabling stroke in September by his diligent wife, Jane Leino, and fast teamwork by medical professionals. Stricken at home by a sudden onset of paralysis, Paapke was being strangled by a large blood clot in his carotid artery between his neck and brain.
Fast action by Leino, the Lewis and Clark Fire District, Medix, Columbia Memorial Hospital, Life Flight Network and Oregon Health & Science University delivered Paapke into the care OHSU interventional neuroradiologist Dr. Hormozd Bozorgchami. Soon after, Bozorgchami withdrew the clot. Paapke experienced an almost immediate and complete recovery.
The ability to use a telemedicine electronic link between Columbia Memorial and OHSU — an increasingly common technology in rural hospitals — in essence gave Paapke access to top stroke experts within the short window of time when lasting damage from the stroke could be avoided. Our photo of him sitting at his dining table is an amazing testimonial to how far stroke care has come in recent years. A generation ago — perhaps even a few years ago — Paapke’s family might have attended his funeral or at least would have faced a hard time tending to his needs.
On our Weekend Break page, Laura Snyder gave an annual update on her life with metastatic breast cancer. It was a beautiful, angry and brave report from the front lines of a war that appears to be seriously mismanaged on a variety of levels.
Snyder is grateful to be alive and certainly makes no effort to play the “victim card.” Every day she deals with pain, discomfort and knowledge that would leave many people in a melted puddle of despair. But she makes no bones about the fact that the nation’s estimated 155,000 current sufferers of metastatic breast cancer — in which tumors spread to other organs — are being neglected by a health care and fundraising system that has different priorities.
Good news about some cancers has allowed us to become overly optimistic about the fates of all cancer patients. For many like Snyder, there is delaying game versus death, one that depends in part on just how long patients are able to withstand the rigors of chemotherapy.
For Synder, Cancer Awareness Month in October is at least partly a sham, substituting shallow awareness for a much more focused and serious effort to fund research into why cancers spread and how to more effectively combat them once they do.
“I guess I believe the dire and fatal breast cancer situation needs to change, quickly, using every resource that can be mustered. This does not mean wearing a pink sweatband while you work out, or eating chicken from a pink bucket of KFC. … Please be certain the dollars you give are not for stuff that will end up at a landfill or the Goodwill but for research,” she wrote. She recommends direct donations to Metavivor, the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network and Breast Cancer Action.
Differing outcomes for local stroke and cancer patients are a result of many factors, not least the incredible complexity of cancer. It’s not one disease, but many. Considering there probably will never be a single “cure” for all these cancers, it’s significant that patients like Snyder now manage to live years beyond their initial diagnosis. Although some genuine gains have been made in converting cancer into a chronic illness instead of an immediate death sentence, we need reminding that we are far from the finish line.
That we are able to share stories like Paapke’s and Snyder’s is itself a sign of how much things have changed in local medicine and our society. Their willingness to share their triumphs and struggles is a real change from not so long ago, when there wasn’t as much good news to report. Although our area still is remote in some ways, it’s nearly routine to expect advanced medical care here, with relatively strong links to the internationally famous care available in the Pacific Northwest’s growing cities.
On this theme, future stories will have much to say about the new Columbia Memorial Hospital-OHSU Knight Cancer Collaborative in Astoria. The partners assert the cancer center is a game-changer for cancer care in our area. This seems likely to be more than hyperbole. The ability to obtain additional therapies that once required patients to make many arduous trips will ease suffering and save lives.
We can all feel proud of how far local health care has come, even while we push for better answers for diseases like metastatic breast cancer.