Joseph Clausi - Old Life is New with Bladder Reconstruction
Joseph Clausi was stunned when he was diagnosed with bladder cancer and told he had no options. At 60, he needed a cystectomy (bladder removal) and would have to get used to having a bag outside his body to collect urine. His active lifestyle - walking six miles a day, doing yard work and frequently going to the beach – would change drastically.
He asked about a neo-bladder – a new bladder made from the small intestine. Joe's physician said it couldn't be done, but told Joe to seek a second opinion if it would help him come to terms with his diagnosis.
Joe quickly found Dr. Raul Parra, who was on staff at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City. Dr. Parra saw no reason why Joe would not make a good candidate for a neo-bladder, though he made no promises.
"Joe had a lot of things going for him – he was in great shape and his cancer had not spread outside the bladder," Dr. Parra said. "Doing a cystectomy and bladder reconstruction is a long surgery and a lot of doctors don't do it. It can't always be done – sometimes a patient is too frail, obese or elderly or the cancer is too advanced – but the majority of times patients can have reconstruction and not have to live with a bag."
Before surgery, Joe went through three cycles of chemotherapy at Holy Name Medical Center, where his children were born and his wife was treated for breast cancer. During those three months, he was fatigued, nauseous and had a racing heart but drove to Sloan periodically for a checkup with Dr. Parra. It was during one of his last appointments that Dr. Parra said he was moving to Holy Name.
"I couldn't believe he was coming to Holy Name," Joe said. "I just felt like this was meant to be."
Dr. Parra moved to Holy Name with the intention of creating an exceptional cancer program that is easily accessible to patients without having to travel to a large city for treatment. He said he was drawn to Holy Name's reputation for offering personalized culturally-sensitive care and wanted to be part of the hospital's commitment to improve the quality of urologic oncology in the region.
Joe had surgery on Feb. 16 at Holy Name. Dr. Parrra reminded Joe that the decision to do the reconstruction would have to be made during the surgery.
"Right up until I went into the operating room, Dr. Parra said he would do the best he could but he would have to see how the cancer looked once he opened me up," Joe said. "After the surgery Dr. Parra told Joe's wife, Debbie, that it worked. They didn't have to tell me – I knew as soon as I woke up. The first thing I did was to look under the sheet."
He was elated but still had some rough days ahead. Recovering from a cystectomy and reconstruction is not easy. He was in the hospital for 19 days, not eating for 10 of those so his digestive system could heal. He had tubes and stents, yearned for real food and wanted out of the hospital.
"The day I got out I drove the whole way home with all the windows open – I just wanted to feel the fresh air," Joe said. "But it was all worth it. Everyone at Holy Name was great, very professional and friendly. I just want everyone to know that Holy Name gives you options.
"And Dr. Parra gave me my life back," Joe said as his eyes filled with tears. "He gives his patients the best life possible."