Ray and June Wadas were high school sweethearts at St. Paul High School
in St. Paul, Nebraska. They were married in 1953, a few months after their
graduation from high school. June bore Ray five sons and two daughters,
all now adults, ranging in age from 46 to 33 years old. As you can see,
the Wadases' children bore children of their own, and family get-togethers
are big occasions.
"Valley Fever" Prompts Visit to Pulmonary Doctor
Before falling ill, Ray was very healthy, strong, and in great shape for
his age. In mid-May, Ray became short of breath on a short vacation to
Phoenix. At first, he thought that he had "valley fever", as
it was windy and dusty in Phoenix. He consulted with his personal physician
upon his return to Johnstown. On May 23, he met with his doctor again,
and scheduled another appointment for June 2. Ray's symptoms became
severe, and he was hospitalized on May 31. Chest films showed a fluid
build-up on the left side. A CT scan and flexible tube bronchoscopy were
A pulmonologist performed a left-sided thoracentesis at North Colorado
Hospital in Greeley, Colorado, removing approximately two liters of fluid
from the chest cavity. On June 14, a thoracic surgeon performed a repeat
thoracentesis, removing another two liters of fluid, as well as a thoracotomy
with biopsy and talc insufflation at North Colorado. The pathology department
returned the diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma the next day.
Local Doctors Baffled
The Wadases are a close-knit family. The Wadases' children began scouring
the Internet for answers to the frightening enigma of mesothelioma. The
Wadases learned what questions to ask. Typically, their local doctors
could not provide answers. Even after a referral to a Greeley oncologist,
there was no answer to whether the cell type was epithelioid (slow moving),
or the more aggressive sarcomatous or bi-phasic types. There was no answer
to the question of what stage Ray's mesothelioma had reached.
The tumor continued to rage within Ray. Night sweats left his t-shirts
and bedsheets drenched. One night, June had to change the sheets five
times. Despite a good appetite, Ray lost thirteen pounds from his gridiron
frame of five feet eleven inches, 220 pounds.
Ray Considers Lovastatin
The first step Ray took was to go on Lovastatin, which he had heard would
not only control his cholesterol but also restrict the blood flow to the
mesothelioma tumors. In 1998, Dr. Jeffrey Rubin at the University of Minnesota
demonstrated in laboratory mice with induced mesothelioma that this cholesterol
lowering drug had anti-tumor potential, but there have been no reported
translational studies with humans. Like
William Dunn, Ray takes the Mevacor brand and reports no ill side effects.
Dr. Pass Promptly Returns Phone Call
The next thing Ray did was set up an appointment with the doctors at the
University of Colorado in nearby Denver for July 5. With an assist from
this website, Ray also phoned Dr. Harvey Pass, Chairman of the Science
Advisory Board of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF), a not-for-profit corporation which aims to eradicate mesothelioma as
a life-ending disease. Dr. Pass returned his call the same day. They scheduled
an appointment for Monday, July 17 at Harper Hospital in Detroit, Michigan.
Before meeting with Dr. Pass, Ray testified at a deposition which was expedited
so that his evidence would be preserved for trial, and he could focus
all of his energy on getting well. Ray detailed massive exposures to asbestos
over the course of a 33 year career at powerhouses and a nuclear power
plant operated by the Public Service Company of Colorado.
Dr. Pass Recommends EPP Without Delay
After flying to Detroit on Saturday, July 15, and setting up in Harper
Hospital Guest Housing, the Wadases met with Dr. Pass' staff the following
Monday for tests, including an MRI and chest films. On Tuesday, July 18,
the Wadases met with Dr. Pass for the first time. After review of the
test results and Ray's medical history, Dr. Pass recommended extrapleural
pneumonectomy (EPP) surgery, consisting of removal of the left lung, part
of the diaphragm, part of the pericardium (the lining around the heart),
the pleura (the lining around the lung), and a rib. Dr. Pass would also
resection the ribs on the left side during the surgery.
Ray asked whether trying a cycle of chemotherapy using ALIMTA
(R) (pemetrexed disodium) or Gemcytabine and platinum would make sense. Dr.
Pass replied that chemotherapy would weaken the immune system and diminish
the likelihood of a successful surgery. Ray decided to go ahead with the EPP.
Dr. Pass, with characteristic dispatch, scheduled the surgery for 10:30
am the next morning!
Ray reported to pre-op two hours before surgery. Nurses inserted the epidural
catheter used to control the pain. Surgery commenced promptly at 10:30
a.m. Every hour on the hour, Dr. Pass had an assistant call the Wadas
family members gathered in the recovery room with updates. Dr. Pass had
predicted that the surgery would take five hours. Sure enough, Dr. Pass
emerged from the operating room five hours after beginning to report that
the surgery had gone extremely well. He felt it was one of the "cleanest"
EPPs he had ever done, in the sense that he felt there was a clean separation
from the tumor he had removed and the (apparently) disease-free tissue
remaining after surgery.
ICU Nurses take "Special Care" of Ray
Ray was taken to the recovery room at 3:30 p.m.. He had tubes going in
and out of him in every direction, but he could talk okay. He remained
in the recovery room for seven hours, because no space was yet available
in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). He was awake and feeling some pain,
but he talked with his family and joked around with the nurses. Ray's
family gathered about him when he arrived in ICU, and Matt, whom Rod calls
"an impressive ICU nurse", assured them he would take special
care of Ray that night.
On Thursday, July 20, the first day post-op, Ray was in good spirits, although
in some pain. The nursing staff tried to get him to sit in a chair earlier
in the morning, but were unsuccessful because his blood pressure was too
low. Ray nearly passed out from the pain and the low blood pressure. He
was a couple of pints short of blood, and the nurses gave him a transfusion.
Kim, an ICU nurse for 23 years, finally got Ray in a chair. At this point,
his stomach was distended to the size of a watermelon. Apparently, stomach
gases and air in his chest from the surgery were causing a pressure imbalance.
Dr. Pass said he would use a long needle to relieve the pressure. The
epidural was removed that evening.
Stomach Pressure and Pain
On Friday, July 21, Dr. Pass put a tube back through Ray's nose and
down his throat to relieve the pressure on his stomach. Ray had vomited
during the night, and the pain was excruciating.
On the Saturday morning of July 22, Ray's medical team felt he was
out of the woods. Unfortunately, Ray had an apparently poor reaction to
a pain medication which he had switched to. For a couple of hours, Ray
recalled that he felt like he "was near death." He started to
slip into a coma-like state where his respiration almost ceased. Ray's
room in ICU was packed with doctors and staff. With their help, Ray pulled
through, but his heart was beating very fast -- at 140 beats per minute.
Over the next few days, Ray Wadas slowly recovered. A day after his brush
with death, he sat in a chair twice. He continued to experience a lot
of pain in his throat from the tube running from his nose to his stomach.
Pneumonia is always a concern with an EPP, and Ray had to sit up and cough
to avoid pneumonia setting in.
By Monday, July 24, Ray was finally out of ICU. Dr. Pass felt if he continued
his progress, he would be able to leave the hospital the following Saturday.
They discussed the critical issue of how to handle post-operative care
once Ray returned home. (Some local hospitals and doctors do not possess
the know-how to render proper follow-up care post- EPP). Ray ate some
Jell-O, the first substance approaching solid food he'd had since
the preceding Tuesday.
By Tuesday, July 25, Ray had been removed from the morphine drip, and was
in quite a bit of pain. The level of care dropped once he got out of ICU,
which was frustrating to the Wadases, but this may have represented a
little tough love treatment. Regardless, Ray was very motivated to get
out of the hospital as quickly as he could!
Ray Walks out of Hospital, Hopeful
By Thursday, the Wadases were informed that Ray would be released from
Harper Hospital Friday afternoon to Guest Housing, and then fly back to
Denver the following day. Ray started feeling better after the pain pills
given in lieu of the morphine drip took effect. His pulse rate continued
to drop to more normal levels. Ray was in good spirits, eating well and
moving well. He walked up and down the hospital halls with a walker. Ray
said, "I could have walked a little faster, if I had only remembered
to bring my tennis shoes!"
The same day, Dr. Pass gave the Wadases the report from the biopsy of his
chest nodes. Of the thirteen nodes, eleven were negative and two positive.
Dr. Pass also said that Ray has the "biphasic" form of the disease,
which means it is a mix of epithelioid and sarcomatous tumors. The plan
on discharge is for Ray to begin chemotherapy with Gemcytabine and Cisplatin
in Denver as soon as he starts feeling well -- probably in four weeks.
Coach Ray Wadas
Revered Pop Warner Football Coach
From the time word got out in Johnstown of Ray's diagnosis, the phone
calls poured in from dozens of friends and family wishing him well. Ray
is a respected and loved community leader. "Coach Wadas" helped
found the Little League in Johnstown. He coached all of his sons, and
of course others, for fourteen years. He coached Pop Warner football.
He served on the Johnstown Town Board, and was "drafted" to
serve one term as Mayor from 1989 to 1993. When he came to Johnstown thirty
years ago, there was no Catholic church there. He helped make St. John
the Baptist Catholic Church in Johnstown a reality. He has served as the
Parish Council President. He and June ran a restaurant, a hardware store
and a car wash.
Ray and June finally retired a year ago. A self-described "golf addict"
and travel lover, he and June have seen Paris, France, and traveled extensively
in Denmark, where June has relatives. They have been to England and Germany,
and taken an Alaskan and a Caribbean cruise. Every year, the children
and grandchildren create a "romantic" dinner evening for Ray
and June. The Wadases know how to have fun -- as this photo from Mexico
Ray and June Wadas
A Quiet Patience Unfettered by the Grim Odds
Ray and June can look back on a bright constellation of happy memories.
Every day, they can greet someone whose life Ray has touched and bettered
through parenting, coaching, or civic service. As Ray contemplates the
future, he knows the odds are against him, but he doesn't think about
the odds. He brings patience, the kind of quiet patience that can sit
through tedious Town Board meetings and help neighbors at odds compromise
for the common good. He brings discipline and respect for the rules of
the game, traits he instilled in his children and others. He draws on
the strength of a family he made strong, and on his faith in God.
Ray Wadas is one of us. When we pray for him, we pray for the best in us.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the Wadas family as they tackle mesothelioma head-on.
*** POSTED AUGUST 21, 2000 ***
An Update on Ray from his son, Rod Wadas - 12/19/00
I just got back from Denver International. Ray and June are en route to
San Antonio! They asked me to send you and your office, especially Trey
Smith their sincere appreciation for all that you have done. You are a
Godsend! Without any hyperbole, let me say that you have made a huge difference--we
have hope where we had none.
Dr. Kelly sent their medical records to San Antonio last week. Ray and
June scheduled an appointment for Thursday morning, December 21, at 9:00
for an evaluation. They are going there hoping to get into an Phase 1
ALIMTA trial, but it sounds like other trials might also be available.
One of the most interesting aspects is a voluntary tumor "assay"
which uses his tumor cells in a laboratory test with different chemotherapy
treatments. Results are returned in 14 days. Based on results from 2600
tests, researchers have found that if the tissues from the biopsy react
to the chemotherapy agent in the lab, there is a 78 percent likelihood
that it will do so in the body. Just as importantly, if the tissues do
not react to the chemotherapy agent in the lab, there is a 98% chance
that the treatment will be ineffective in the body. That is stunning!
There is nothing worse than the thought of going through ineffective,
painful, useless chemotherapy. If we can be assured that the chemo works
in the lab, that is the most powerful recommendation available. Seeing
them leave for San Antonio is a wonderful Christmas gift. Thank you Trey!
Everyone in my family thanks you!
My dad is getting a little weaker but he is as determined as ever to fight
mesothelioma. Thanks to your help, he has found a way to keep fighting.
Regards, Rod Wadas
*** POSTED DECEMBER 21, 2000 ***
Mr. Wadas passed away on July 17, 2001