Barry Koppel was born in 1944 and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. He graduated
from the University of Maryland in 1966 with a degree in finance and went
to work for the Xerox corporation in 1967. His first job with Xerox was
as a sales representative and later he became a manager. He quickly vaulted
up the corporate ladder. After ten years in Baltimore, he was promoted
to marketing manager and moved into the Xerox headquarters in Rochester,
New York. Barry was making a name for himself as a smart, energetic and
After three years in New York, Barry moved his wife, Wendy and two daughters,
Robin and Laurie westward, to Pasadena, California, still working for
Xerox. He was now a "hot commodity" and was approached by several
top-notch hi-tech companies on the west coast. In 1987, he left Xerox
and for the next ten years, was the vice-president for three different
companies on the West Coast. His hard work -- his
investment in his family's future -- enabled him to retire in 1997, at the tender
age of 53.
WORKING OUT AND WORKING ON HIS GAME
He was now free to improve his health, spend more time with his family,
explore the world and refine his golf game, which had always been his
passion. He was playing golf up to six times a week and had a regular
fitness routine that included weight lifting. After several years he lowered
his handicap to seven strokes.
Barry and Wendy began spending more and more time at their second home,
located outside of Palm Springs. Life was good. There was plenty of sunshine,
fresh squeezed orange juice and fresh cut golf courses. Their daughters
were grown and living on their own. When Barry was not working out or
golfing, he was exercising his mind. He enjoyed reading, monitoring his
investments and, like most of us, cheering for his favorite college and
professional teams. Barry and Wendy were living the life they had always
dreamed of: each day offered the prospect of something new and wonderful.
They were traveling, hiking and enjoying each other like newlyweds.
Barry, always working on his game
FROM A NAGGING COUGH TO SOMETHING FAR WORSE
In the fall of 2001, Barry developed a nagging cough and occasional flu-like
symptoms. He thought he had a cold and figured he could "play through
it," but the symptoms persisted. One week, after playing several
rounds of golf, he noticed an unusual pain in his shoulder and neck area.
He met with his internist, who felt he was suffering from a viral infection
and prescribed antibiotics. Unfortunately, the antibiotics had no effect,
and Barry returned to the doctor. A chest film was taken which revealed
a small subpleural-based mass in the left upper lobe, along with a pleural
effusion. Aspiration of the fluid failed to detect malignant cells. A
CT scan was then taken and revealed what appeared to be two pleural-based
masses, plus additional fluid.
On December 10, 2001, Barry was admitted to the West Hills Hospital and
Medical Center in West Hills, California. He and his doctors wanted to
know what was going on in his chest.
After consulting with his surgeon, the plan was to extract a tissue sample
from Barry's left lung. On December 10th, Barry underwent a fiber
optic bronchoscopy, thoracoscopy with biopsy, and talc pleurodesis. During
the thoracoscopy, the surgeon saw tumor spreading diffusely throughout
the pleural space.
Pathological testing on the biopsied tissue resulted in a diagnosis of
malignant mesothelioma. The cell type was epithelial. Pathologists at
the IMPATH laboratory in Los Angeles also examined the specimens and using
immunohistochemical staining, confirmed the diagnosis and cell type.
Barry and Wendy Koppel
After the surgery, Barry and Wendy met with an oncologist affiliated with
the hospital. In his jargon-laced medical opinion, "the mesothelioma
was not resectable with curative intent", radiation therapy was not
an option with such diffuse disease, and only chemotherapy could be offered,
that is, chemotherapy would only make Barry more comfortable but it wouldn't
cure him. The oncologist then discussed alternative treatments, including
anthracyclines, Capecitabine, Gemcitabine and anti-NGA-genesis factors
available in clinical trials.
Oh Lord -- what a difference a few days had made. Just nine days earlier
he was admitted for exploratory testing, and now he was being sent home
with a doctor's prescription that in essence said "why bother?"
Barry viewed this course of action as "
unacceptable!" He knew there just had to be an alternative that offered hope, it
was just a matter of him hunkering down, researching his options, and
picking the best doctors who had the best track record for treating similarly
EPP CHOSEN TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM
Immediately, he and his friends and family began an intense research on
the Internet and discovered Drs. Robert Cameron and David Sugarbaker.
The next week, he met with Dr. Cameron at the UCLA Medical Center. Dr.
Cameron reviewed Barry*s records and discussed the surgical alternatives
of pleurectomy with decortication versus extra-pleural pneumonectomy.
Dr. Cameron prefers pleurectomy with decortication. Barry also met with
Dr. Sol Hamburg, an oncologist at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles,
who was offering clinical trials for mesothelioma that relied on chemotherapy
Deep in his gut, Barry knew that he wanted to aggressively attack this
cancer. It is his nature to
solve the problem - head on. He and Wendy decided on the extra-pleural pneumonectomy (EPP) with heated
intra-operative chemotherapy with Dr. David Sugarbaker at the Brigham
& Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. It was time to leave
the land of milk and honey and head back East.
Barry and Wendy, hiking
On January 31, 2002, Dr. Sugarbaker performed the procedure. The family
was relieved when after just four hours Dr. Sugarbaker came with the news
that Barry's surgery went extremely well and he was able to remove
all visible cancer. However, Barry's experience was not without some
complications. During his post-operative recovery, he suddenly complained
of increased shortness of breath and heart problems.. Subsequent testing
revealed pulmonary embolisms in the right upper and lower lobes. He was
readmitted to the ICU two times and his condition eventually stabilized
with treatment. With the amazing attention of Dr. Sugarbaker's "team"
and the exceptional nurses, Barry was discharged on February 28, four
weeks to the day after his admission.
Upon his discharge, Barry was, according to Wendy, "as weak as a cat
and as thin as a rail." He was on oxygen 24 hours a day. He had no
appetite and had to force himself to eat. He tired very easily and did
not have good days or bad days, just good hours or bad hours.
WORKING HARD ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY
After several weeks, his strength gradually increased and he no longer
required oxygen. He returned to his home in California, 20 pounds lighter
than when he left, but filled with hope. He also had a date to keep. His
older daughter, Robin, was getting married on May 18th, and he had given
her his word that he would be there to walk her down the aisle. Barry
kept his word, and enjoyed every second of that triumphant escort.
On June 20, Barry underwent his first chemotherapy treatment consisting
of Cisplatin and Alimta on a compassionate use basis. He has completed
four treatments, which are administered every three weeks. He has now
had a clean CT scan and will soon return to Boston for his six month follow-up.
Barry is working hard to regain all his strength. He meets with a physical
therapist several times a week. He has gained back approximately eight
pounds but still experiences left-sided pain if he tries to swing a golf
club. He is working harder each day to become the man he was, a short
eight months ago.
Laurie, Barry, Wendy and Robin.
The Koppel Family
As it turns out, Barry was so good the first time that his second daughter,
Laurie, also decided to get married. She, too, has made her Daddy promise
to walk her down the aisle, and she's getting married on March 22,
2003. After having a lung removed, Barry may have less than half of his
lung capacity, but his heart has grown bigger, and his fondness for his
family has soared. He said he would happily deliver his daughter to the
altar even if Laurie was getting married at the top of El Capitan in Yosemite Park
Barry understands that stress and worry will not help his recovery. Yet
he is angry that his life has been compromised by a deadly cancer that
was the result of his exposure to asbestos. Barry knows that his mesothelioma
was preventable, as the companies responsible knew the risks but failed
to warn him and others. It chaps him to think that company executives
opted to use asbestos fibers over alternative materials simply because
asbestos was a few pennies cheaper. Barry and Wendy both feel robbed,
but they try not to linger on the negatives, as bitterness only feeds
the monster that the asbestos companies create.
*** POSTED AUGUST 27, 2002 ***
An Update -- 10/13/03
Barry continues to see Dr. Sugarbaker every four months for a follow-up
CT scan and exam. "So far so good." It's been nearly two
years since his diagnosis. He says that compared to the original prognosis,
he's been pleasantly surprised with his recovery. He urges those similarly
situated to have a little faith and keep a positive attitude.
He gladly reports he did indeed walk his daughter Laurie down the aisle
to matrimony. He is looking forward to grandchildren. He plays golf as
often as he can and tries to keep himself busy. Four months ago he began
to work with the Meals-on-Wheels charity, and finds great joy in that.
He welcomes calls from other mesothelioma patients and considers it an
honor to help other families and patients.
Mr. Barry Koppel passed away on January 9, 2005