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54-Year-Old Engineer Happy To Find Dr. Harvey Pass


In March of 1999, Bob Elliott, 54-year-old husband, father of four and electrical engineer, felt he could not shake a hacking cough that had cursed him for several weeks. He was also experiencing right-sided chest pain. He met with his local physician in Elkhart, Indiana and had several chest films taken. The films revealed a large right pleural effusion.

Bob was immediately admitted to Elkhart General Hospital and underwent a thoracentesis. His doctor removed approximately 2000 cc's of pleural fluid. The cytology was positive for malignant cells consistent with but not diagnostic of adenocarcinoma.

Based on the fluid analysis, which is not the gold standard for diagnosing disease, one of Bob's doctors came to him and told him flat out that he was going to die, that he would die within months, that he should start thinking of his lifespan as months rather than years, and that he should get his affairs in order.

"This doctor had no bedside manner at all. There was no preparation, no 'sit down, I have some rather bad news for you.' He just came in and told me this matter-of-factly, without emotion, as though he were reading a weather report. At first I was in shock. As soon as I came out of it, I was devastated."

Three days later, the fluid returned, and Bob underwent a second thoracentesis. Again, the cytology suggested adenocarcinoma. Bob's doctors referred him to an oncologist, without conducting the standard tests for diagnosing cancer, such as a tissue biopsy.

The oncologist reviewed Mr. Elliott's CT scans and bone scan. His initial impression was of a gastric carcinoma with metastasis to the right pleura and right-sided pleural effusion. To confirm, the oncologist scheduled Bob for a bronchoscopy, upper endoscopy, biopsy and another bone scan. The tests indicated that the cells in the pleural fluid were malignant.

Bob was referred to a local thoracic surgeon, who gave Bob good news: his cancer could be cured through surgery.

Bob felt as though he had just been reprieved from a death sentence. But as he was preparing to elect surgery, another physician told him that the surgery was unnecessary and would only increase his suffering until his inevitable and imminent death. Bob had unfortunately managed to draw two or three of less intelligent doctors from the deck. In the meantime, another surgeon performed a thoracoscopy with talc pleurodesis at the Elkhart General Hospital. Pathology obtained via thoracoscopy confirmed the dreaded diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma.

Bob was on an emotional roller coaster. He needed reliable information about his diagnosis and prospects for treatment. He was tired of being treated like a "goner." He was skeptical of doctors who seemed to coddle a sort of perverse pleasure in telling Bob he was going to die. Bob is a fighter. His "upper lip" is about as stiff as they come, but Bob was not prepared to slink off and die. He reached out to the internet and found my law firm's website.

I introduced Bob to Dr. Harvey Pass of Detroit, Michigan, one of the world's foremost experts in the surgical treatment of malignant mesothelioma. On May 21, Bob and his loving wife Susie traveled to Detroit and met with Dr. Pass. Based on tests performed by Dr. Pass, Bob was scheduled for surgery on Tuesday, June 22nd. The plan is for Bob to undergo radical pleurectomy. Once he recovers from surgery, Bob will undergo chemotherapy with the promising new agent Platar . If the complete removal of the lung is necessary, Bob is unwavering, "Hey, I feel I only have 1/16 of my lung fuctioning right now. If they take the whole lung, I won't miss a thing!".

Bob has nothing but praise for Dr. Pass. "He's just the opposite of the other doctors. He's knowledgeable, and he's compassionate. He has a wonderful bedside manner. He has given me hope, not false promises."

Bob feels fortunate to have found "I'd like to take an ad out in the Cleveland newspapers, for all the people I worked with who were exposed to asbestos, to send them to Roger, in case they need the help. My heart goes out to all of those people who have gone through what I have, but weren't able to find the right doctors to really help them."

Bob and his daughter
Bob was exposed to asbestos years ago while working at a steel mill, an aluminum foundry, a hospital and, of course, at a factory which produced an asbestos-containing product. At the steel mill, he worked in an electric furnace that was half the size of a football field in diameter, and asbestos-containing refractories were used by the boxcar-load. "Everything was huge at the plant. The enormity of it all was overwhelming, and as a young man working there, I felt powerful. The place was HOT, HOT, HOT and so HUGE! It was so primal."

Bob worked his way up the ladder, getting better jobs as he earned his degree in electrical engineering. He and Susie have three adult children and one sixteen year-old. "We are a very close family, and the news of my diagnosis has hit my youngest daughter very hard. She came home early from her high school prom. She just couldn't handle it, knowing that I was suffering."

Bob mists up as he shows a picture of himself and his daughter, walking on the beach just a few weeks ago. "See how we are captured, in step? That's the way we are. It's normal for kids her age to rebel, for there to be a rift. That hasn't happened with us. We have stayed close."

Bob doesn't really want his friends to know that he has been diagnosed with a fatal disease. He doesn't want them to call him up, and say they're sorry, because he has not given up . "I don't want to be treated like I'm dead already, because I'm not. I have changed my diet to beat this thing. I will beat it." He agreed to tell his story here only because he believes it will help others facing the same grim imponderables he has and will face.

We extend to Bob and his family our best wishes for a speedy recovery.

*** POSTED JUNE 21, 1999 ***

Addendum, June 25, 1999, Post-Surgery

Bob's wife Susie reports today that Bob felt very anxious the night before surgery. They stayed awake until 3:00 a.m., worrying about what might happen the next day.

Bob endured eight hours of surgery, from around 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Tuesday, June 22, 1999.

Dr. Pass found "heavy involvement" of the tumor with the right lung, which "looked like blue cheese." The tumor had also involved the lymph nodes. Dr. Pass removed Bob's entire right lung, the involved lymph nodes, and portions of the pericardium and the right side of the diaphragm. He placed a Gore-Tex patch on the pericardium and diaphragm. Dr. Pass reported that the surgery was difficult but not the most difficult he's ever faced.

Bob stayed in the recovery room more than five hours after surgery, until 10:30 p.m. He spent that night and the next two days in the Intensive Care Unit.

Susie says that Bob experienced "pain control issues" the first two nights after surgery. Dr. Pass likes to keep his patients "dry" after surgery to prevent pulmonary edema. Dr. Pass reported to Susie that Bob went through "a very hard night" after surgery. Severe thirst, and pain, kept Bob from sleeping for two long nights.

Bob's epidural caused his blood pressure to dip. His doctors clamped off the epidural and administered Toradol and morphine for pain. The hospital finally permitted Susie to come into ICU on Thursday, June 24th.His doctors pulled the epidural and switched Bob to a morphine "pump". He moved from ICU to a private room later that afternoon.

The next day, Bob turned into "the Comeback Kid." Bob finally had some quality sleep the night before! His color returned. He dutifully completed ten repetitions on the expirometer.

He walked with Susie to the nurse's station and back, over 300 feet, three times. Bob even sang some silly "made-up" songs (well known within the Elliott circle), and had the nurses going. Bob's spirited comeback has his doctors talking about pulling his i.v. tomorrow, to try out oral medication, so he can possibly go home on Sunday!

Keep singing, Bob. We're pulling for you.

*** POSTED JUNE 28, 1999 ***

Mr. Bob Elliott passed away on August 23, 2000