SALT LAKE CITY – Advances in cancer treatment have led to life-saving options in even the worst cases. For a Utah man, a critical organ ravaged by cancer was totally re-engineered to save him.
Tom Ramsey loves life, the outdoors, and adventure, but Ramsey took a journey he’d never imagined.
“My lower back started to hurt,” said Ramsey, who lives in Salt Lake City. It began a year and a half ago. A scan led to a devastating diagnosis.
“That’s when they said, ‘Wow, you’ve got the worst tumors we have ever seen. What would you like to do?’”
Dr. Chris Dechet, co-director of the Multidisciplinary Urologic Oncology Group at the Huntsman Cancer Institute said, “Almost 90 percent of his bladder was full of bladder cancer.”
Bladder cancer is one of the top six types of cancer. According to Dechet, 82,000 people are diagnosed with it in the United States every year, and 18,000 people die from it annually. He said that 50 percent of the time it’s caused by smoking.
Ramsey was not a smoker, but he was exposed to second-hand smoke growing up. Genetics and the environment also play a factor in bladder cancer, Dechet said.
After his diagnosis, Ramsey said, “It all happened very fast.”
Doctors needed to remove his bladder. They explained they could build him a new one called a “neobladder.”
Dechet said, “It’s essentially a segment of bowel that we take from the patient’s small intestine, and we reconfigure it into a reservoir and hook it down to where the bladder used to be.”
“I was like, ‘Can that really happen? Can you really take my intestine and build me a bladder?’” Ramsey said.
It was a difficult operation that took four to five hours. First, doctors removed the bladder. Then, they took a segment of the small bowel. They created a neobladder, shaping intestine into a sphere that can hold urine. Finally, they stitched it to the urethra.
“They took me apart, basically, and re-plumbed me, and put me back together,” Ramsey said.
The neobladder has been tricky. Tom said he has felt pressure but not urgency, so he has to set a timer to go every four hours.
“We have to get him to kind of retrain his new bladder so that it expands and not over-expands,” Dechet said.
He soon resumed his active life, with no need for external bags or appliances.
“It’s amazing. I’m back to normal,” Ramsey said.
“He’s out skiing and doing all his regular activities again,” Dechet said.
Other than occasional, minor pain, his future looks bright, defying the odds, and maintaining a lifestyle he loves.