Thursday 29 September 2016

Mother 'devastated' as life-saving cancer specialist leaves St. Vincent’s Hospital

Catherine Devine

Published 26/06/2016 | 09:49

Health Minister Simon Harris. Picture Credit : Frank Mc Grath
Health Minister Simon Harris. Picture Credit : Frank Mc Grath

Over 5,000 people have signed an online petition urging St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin to renew the contract of its only sarcoma specialist as her contract is due to expire.

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Dr Alexia Bertuzzi is the only member of staff in the hospital with the expertise in the rare form of cancer but is due to leave the hospital next week when her contract expires.

Sarcoma is a rare cancer that affects around 250 people in Ireland annually. There are 50 different sub-types, which are not easily diagnosed unless a doctor is specifically trained in this area. If caught early, sarcoma is curable. However, if it is not diagnosed early and it spreads, then sarcoma is incurable.

Kelli Appezzato said the “only hope” for her husband and patients of sarcoma is a specialist who is trained to deal with it.

She wrote an open letter to the Minister for Health Simon Harris after he addressed the issue in the Dáil last week saying “I am assured by the HSE that care for patients undergoing treatment for sarcoma cancer at St Vincent’s Hospital will not be compromised.”

Kelli condemned Harris’ statement saying that she “watched in absolute silence as you parroted back the response from the HSE that we had ourselves received”.

“How can a hospital allow treatment as unique and rare as sarcoma to be given by a doctor without the required specialty?

“There is something fundamentally wrong here. If you follow this logic then perhaps in the future a brain cancer patient could be treated by someone who specialises in prostate cancer,” she wrote in her open letter to the Minister for Health.

“They are simply not trained to do the job.”

Kelli’s husband Gino was diagnosed with sarcoma last January and was cared for by Dr Bertuzzi.

“I’ll never forget the day we met Dr Bertuzzi, or Alexia, as we call her now. He was dying, right before my eyes. Alexia walked into the room and brought with her an absolute sense of calm.

“She smiled at us both, and asked Gino to tell her everything. Start at the beginning, she said. Leave nothing out. So he told her his story. And when he was too weak to talk, I told her his story.

“And at the end she said: “I know what this is. I’ve seen this before. I’ve treated this before. You will have chemo. You will have surgery. And you will live.””

Kelli said that with Dr Bertuzzi’s knowledge and expertise Gino’s tumour shrank.

“He was home in time to celebrate Father’s Day with his four very grateful children. Alexia saved his life. And I don’t say that flippantly. She really did.”

Kelli said she’s “devastated” that there will no longer be a sarcoma expert in the hospital and rallied with other families suffering with the illness to launch a petition to ensure the service will be provided.

“Quite simply, the delivery of medical oncology care to sarcoma patients by untrained, inexperienced oncologists who have no interest in or knowledge of the disease is not acceptable. Patients will die prematurely as a result.

“What we care about is that from 1st July there will be no expert sarcoma oncologist available to treat our loved ones. And that is a huge loss for all of Ireland, and especially for my four children.”

A spokeswoman for St Vincent’s said: “Patients’ ongoing care and management will be undertaken by the multidisciplinary team in the hospital, which has all of the relevant specialties including surgery, medical oncology, radiation oncology, radiology and pathology for the care of patients with sarcoma and other cancers”.

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