The impact of the Wilf Taillieu Thoracic Surgery Clinic and Endoscopy Unit
When it comes to cancer, early detection is key. But in the case of Arlene Link, finding out about her esophageal cancer a little bit later spared her an invasive procedure and a lengthy recovery. Here’s how.
In the spring of 2019, 63-year-old Link saw her family doctor in Morden for a routine check-up. Her blood work was concerning so her doctor sent her for a CT scan which showed evidence of cancer. By July, she was in the good hands of HSC thoracic surgeon Dr. Biniam Kidane at the just-opened, donor-funded Wilf Taillieu Thoracic Surgery Clinic and Endoscopy Unit. With new, state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment, Dr. Kidane was able to stage Link’s cancer and then perform a procedure called an ESD (endoscopic submucosal dissection).
“ESD essentially cores out esophageal cancer and takes it out through the mouth without any cuts on the outside of the body,” explains Dr. Kidane. “Had Arlene come to see me a month earlier before the clinic was open, she would have had a far more invasive surgery along with chemotherapy and radiation. Greater risk, a longer recovery, and a huge impact on her quality of life.”
“Dr. Kidane told me later that I would have had to spend a long time in the hospital if I had regular surgery,” says Link, a retired Agriculture Canada employee. “Instead I only had to stay one night.”
Ernie Bias’s story is similar to Link’s, but even more remarkable considering his age. At 82, and with other health issues, conventional surgery coupled with chemotherapy and radiation would have been impossible.
Fortunately for Bias, a resident of West St. Paul, the new clinic was up and running last fall when it became clear he needed treatment. His ESD (which he playfully calls his “Roto-Rooter”) was a huge success. Like Link, one night in hospital, no complications, and a total cure.
“Dr. Kidane explained everything to me and made it clear that there were no guarantees,” says Bias, a retired mechanic and service station owner. “I think Dr. Kidane is the greatest person ever. The man is an angel.”
The Wilf Taillieu Thoracic Surgery Clinic and Endoscopy Unit was the brainchild of Dr. Larry Tan, HSC’s Head of Thoracic Surgery. Under the volunteer leadership of Mavis Taillieu, the HSC Foundation raised $3.2 million in 11 months to make the clinic a reality. Thanks to the new clinic—which also treats lung cancer patients—HSC has been able to double the number of upper gastrointestinal and lung scopes that are performed, and a growing number of patients like Bias and Link are experiencing remarkable outcomes and avoiding more complicated procedures and painful recoveries.
“We can’t cure everyone,” says Dr. Kidane. “Thanks to donors, the people we can cure are getting faster and better treatment. The people we can’t cure are getting the help they need faster to improve their comfort and quality of life.”
“When you tell me that this space exists because of donors, I get goosebumps,” says Link. “I’m so grateful to them, but how do you thank people you’ll probably never meet?”