Regrowing the Liver Before Cancer Surgery: A Grateful Patient's Story (Video)

At age 26, Christina Neal was diagnosed with breast cancer. Two years later, she found out the cancer had spread to her liver. Initially one spot, the liver cancer grew to two spots after a couple of months of hormone therapy, she said.

To treat the cancer, Ms. Neal would need to have nearly half of her liver removed surgically. Her Baptist Health surgeon, Ignacio Rua, M.D., knew that removing this much of Ms. Neal’s liver would likely lead to liver failure. So he referred her to Ripal Gandhi, M.D., an interventional radiologist with Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute at Baptist Hospital, who has expertise in a vascular procedure called portal vein embolization.

(Video: The Baptist Health News Team hears from patient Christina Neal about undergoing a special procedure that helped treat her liver cancer. Video by Steve Pipho.)

“My first reaction was: ‘Oh my gosh, is this going to be the end for me? I don’t want to go through this again. Why me?’ ” recalls Ms. Neal. “Because whenever you hear about metastasizing, you hear negative things. Then Dr. Gandhi told me he was going to perform a procedure that would increase the other side of my liver because half of my liver was going to be removed.”

The minimally-invasive procedure involves inserting a small needle into the primary vein to the liver to cut off the blood supply to the diseased part of the organ. This allows the other side of the liver to grow more healthy tissue. It takes approximately four weeks for the liver to grow such that the patient can subsequently have liver surgery. The liver is the only bodily organ that can regenerate.

The procedure takes between 2 and 3 hours, and patients can go home the same day or may require one overnight hospital stay. Dr. Gandhi, who is also an associate professor at Florida International University’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, is one of a few interventional radiologists who specializes in the treatment of liver tumors.

“As interventional radiologists, we have many therapeutic treatments we can offer patients with liver cancer, including burning or freezing a tumor (tumor ablation), administering chemotherapy and small beads directly into tumor (chemoembolization) and administering small radioactive beads directly into a liver tumor via a catheter (yttrium-90 radioembolization),” Dr. Gandhi said.  “We work very closely with our colleagues in medical oncology, radiation oncology and surgical oncology at Miami Cancer Institute to determine the best treatment for each patient.”

Dr. Gandhi is very pleased with Ms. Neal’s outcome. “She did very well with the surgery and recovery and has been doing well since,” Dr. Gandhi said. “We are very happy about her situation.”

Ms. Neal, now 31 years old, is grateful for the medical treatment and care she’s received at Baptist Health throughout her journey with cancer.

“I’ve had 13 surgeries with Baptist, and everyone has been amazing,” Ms. Neal said. “From my doctors to the nurses to the nursing assistants and staff, they have all taken good care of me and made me feel welcome. They want to be there to help you and make you feel calm and comfortable.”

The Baptist Health News Team spoke with Ms. Neal about her journey through treatment and recovery. Watch the video now.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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