By all accounts, Stan Kaminski was a perfectly healthy man who went in for a wellness checkup with his primary care physician. When some test results were not quite right, his doctor didn’t give up. Stan was connected to Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin where specialists diagnosed a rare leukemia. After outpatient treatment, Stan is back to his firefighter job, and feels like the luckiest man alive.
It’s one thing to believe that regular physicals are important. It’s another to make the appointment. Stan Kaminski knows how important these checkups – or health maintenance visits – are because that’s how his leukemia was detected.
Stan had turned 50 and wanted to go in for a checkup. As a Milwaukee firefighter, he was in good health overall but hadn’t been to the doctor in a couple of years and was looking for a new primary care physician.
“I knew I wanted to be in the Froedtert network, because of its reputation,” he said. He searched online, read the physician profiles and chose Michael Cada, MD, a Medical College of Wisconsin internist/pediatrician, who practices at the Springdale Primary Care Clinic in Brookfield. He saw Dr. Cada for a complete physical.
Primary Care — First Step to DetectionDuring a checkup, certain things are standard, including taking a medical history, giving a physical exam and ordering certain lab tests, Dr. Cada explained. “During a wellness visit, we also do a lot of listening and get a lot of information. We put all the pieces together.”
One test that might be part of an annual health maintenance visit is a CBC or complete blood count. In Stan’s case, his medical history indicated a family history of cancer, but they were not all the same types of cancers. Still, that led Dr. Cada to do some additional blood testing. The blood tests showed Stan had a low white blood cell count and low platelets, which indicated a possible problem.
“We repeated the CBC with additional tests,” Dr. Cada explained. “The second set of tests also came back with low counts, and that’s when we knew we needed to go to the next level.”
Academic Medical CenterThose first tests didn’t offer a diagnosis, just an indication that something was wrong. The next level was a referral to Patrick Foy, MD, a Medical College of Wisconsin hematologist/oncologist with the Blood and Lymph Node Cancer Program at Froedtert & The Medical College. The physicians in the program are experts in specific blood and lymphatic diseases. They take a team approach, working together to find the best treatment for each individual patient.
One advantage of seeing a Medical College of Wisconsin primary care doctor is the connection with specialists at eastern Wisconsin’s only academic medical center, including those at the Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin Clinical Cancer Center. One electronic record system is integrated throughout all Froedtert & The Medical College facilities and physicians’ offices.
In order to make Stan’s diagnosis, he had a bone marrow biopsy, which looks specifically for blood cancers, including leukemias. Not every patient needs the test, depending on the patient’s risk factors.
Specialized Cancer CareStan’s biopsy showed that he had hairy cell leukemia, a rare, slow-growing blood cancer, and he was referred to Ehab Atallah, MD, a Medical College of Wisconsin hematologist/oncologist who is part of the Blood and Lymph Node Cancer Program.
Dr. Atallah specializes in treating all types of leukemia and is dedicated to keeping up with the latest innovations and advances. Fortunately for Stan, hairy cell leukemia is highly treatable and even curable.
“Hairy cell leukemia can be cured by chemotherapy alone, but patients can relapse up to 15 years later,” Dr. Atallah explained. “If it does recur, patients can be treated again.”
Stan’s treatment proceeded well, according to Dr. Atallah. He had a five-day course of chemotherapy as an outpatient at Froedtert & The Medical College.
“Usually patients with this leukemia can experience low blood counts that might require transfusion. They’re at high risk for infection, and they might require hospitalization,” Dr. Atallah said. “Stan had none of those problems. He’s as good as it gets.” Still, because of his weakened immune system and the nature of his work, it was recommended that Stan take off of work for several months and follow all the rules of avoiding infection during his recovery.
Primary Care and Cancer CareEven while Stan was being treated for cancer, his primary care physician, Dr. Cada, was still up to date on his care.
“During the treatment, the specialist remains the point person,” Dr. Atallah said. “After the patient is in remission, the primary care physician is the quarterback. The primary care physician knows everything that has been going on with the patient.”
Stan said he never had to make an appointment himself – each physician’s office staff took care of making the next appointment for him. “They were all extremely nice,” Stan said.
Excellent OutcomeStan had an excellent outcome. A follow-up bone marrow biopsy after his treatment showed that he has no residual disease. He still sees Dr. Atallah regularly to make sure his blood counts are where they should be, and sees Dr. Cada for regular checkups.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of a complete physical by a doctor who really pays attention,” Stan said. “I’m the luckiest guy alive.”
Author: Dustin Kehrmeyer
Date: Feb. 7, 2013