Breakthrough cancer treatment performed at St. John Hospital saves lives

Posted at 11:25 PM, Nov 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-12 23:25:24-05

An amazing cancer treatment was featured on the ABC television drama, "The Good Doctor." Now, in real life, that treatment is saving lives, and it's being done right in metro Detroit at Ascension St. John Hospital.

This treatment is for people suffering with cancerous tumors in their abdomens who before this breakthrough, they could only rely on limited treatments like chemotherapy alone.

“I was not feeling right and there was a black ice in the parking lot and I fell,” said Teresa Wrestler.

A freak accident put Wrestler's life on a collision course. This fall disrupted a life already filled with grief from her dad's diabetes, her brother's drug addiction and her life-altering diagnosis. She also lost her brother and things began to spiral.

“He passed away," Wrestler said. "I got cancer, my dad passed away, my grandma passed away."

Despite the overwhelming sadness, without that fall, a cancerous tumor growing inside Wrestler may never have been discovered. 

“The tumor was so large that it was pressing on my everything and I couldn't breathe,” Wrestler explained.

She was told to see Dr. Richard Berri, a Surgical Oncologist at Ascension St. John Hospital. At St. John, doctors perform a treatment for rare cancers called HIPEC, defined as hyper-thermic intra-peritoneal chemo-perfusion.

“When those organs have tumors that have spread into the abdomen, one of the treatments that we've developed over the last 10 or 15 years is a surgical treatment to remove all the tumors in the abdomen,” Berri said.

In 2011, HIPEC was considered experimental. Patients with cancers in the ovaries, colon, appendix or abdominal organs would only get it if they were out of options and insurance would not cover it.

Today, with data to prove HIPEC saves lives, insurance will now cover it. So Wrestler was hopeful as soon as she met Berri.

“The sun was shining behind him," Wrestler said. "It was really, really strange but I just knew when he said I am going to save your life."

Her ovarian cancer had spread throughout her abdomen and then Berri recommended the same treatment spotlighted on an episode of "The Good Doctor" seen here on WXYZ.

“I think shows like that, and stories like this... anything we can do to raise awareness to help patients is so important,” Berri said.

Wrestler's surgery was done in two parts, with first the removal of her beach ball sized tumor.

“He had to hurry up and finish with the removal because I was passing away on the table,” Wrestler said.

She had to regain her strength over three months before a second surgery with HIPEC could be done. Her abdominal cavity was filled with hot chemotherapy drugs.

“(They) cut me open all the way, lower my body temp, pour in the heated chemo kinda like a shake and bake,” Wrestler said.

This surgery can last from five to twenty hours depending on the type of tumor.

For Wrestler, it was a success and three years later she's cancer free. 

“When she came to me, and really when all patients come to see us, they are at a point when they really need help and they need to have hope," Dr. Berri said. “We're really happy with results."

They continue to do over 50 cases like this a year and through that time we've been able to see kind of the results of some patients who really benefit from this.