When Precision Counts

“We feel tremendously blessed to be sent to Saint Luke's. I have so much faith in that hospital." 
— Rebekah Perron

When stomach pain began bothering 83-year-old David Perron in March 2022, he believed he was experiencing pancreatitis. That’s a known side effect of Ozempic®, a medication David was taking to manage his diabetes. He went to the Emergency Department at
Saint Luke’s Community Hospital, a division of Saint Luke’s South Hospital, where doctors confirmed David’s suspicions: pancreatitis. 

But there was more.

As physicians performed scans, they saw something else—and it looked a lot more worrisome. Realizing David needed a more thorough exam to get a complete and accurate diagnosis, they referred him to Dhruv Bansal, MD, a specialist in hematology and oncology at Saint Luke’s Cancer Institute.

Additional tests performed by Dr. Bansal and his team revealed that David had Stage 4 esophageal cancer. Symptoms for esophageal cancer can include coughing, difficulty or pain in swallowing, a burning sensation in the chest, and unexplained weight loss. While surgery can be an option for patients with beginning-stage esophageal cancer, David’s had spread to other parts of his body. It was far too advanced. Using standard treatments, his cancer was considered incurable. 

Dr. Bansal quickly created another treatment program involving six rounds of chemotherapy, hoping to slow the spread of the disease. Chemotherapy can add precious months or years to a patient’s life. However, it’s not a good option for everybody. Chemotherapy treatments work in broad strokes, weakening the body. Serious side effects often include nausea, weight loss, and fatigue, leading to a diminished quality of life. Older patients, or those with other health problems, often have more difficulty tolerating chemotherapy and have more severe side effects. 

That’s what happened to David, who found that chemotherapy brought a slate of new problems. He was uncomfortable and in some pain after each treatment, and his legs became swollen and weak, resulting in episodes of falling. He lost 40 pounds. His physical difficulties translated into mental and emotional struggles, as well. His mood was up and down, and he came to dread his appointments, knowing the toll they took on him.

Seeing that David did not tolerate chemotherapy well, Dr. Bansal began searching for an alternative. As the medical director of Saint Luke's Hospital Center for Precision Oncology, Dr. Bansal thought David could be a good candidate for this leading-edge approach to cancer treatment. In precision oncology, physicians are able to identify certain mutations in a patient’s DNA, or genetic code, that produce cancer cells. Then, they administer medications that have been developed to specifically target and destroy mutated cells, while leaving healthy cells largely intact. This targeted therapy can be more effective, and produce fewer side effects, than many more traditional cancer treatments.

Saint Luke’s is a regional leader in precision oncology and was the first hospital in Kansas City to offer this innovative treatment. We continue to participate in numerous clinical trials and studies to advance research in the field. 

Dr. Bansal completely adjusted David’s treatment plan. First, he switched David to a PARP inhibitor. PARP is a protein that helps repair damaged cells—including cancer cells. By blocking the PARP from acting, cancer cells are greatly diminished in their ability to reproduce and spread. This treatment was combined with immunotherapy to strengthen David’s immune system and help his body target and destroy cancer cells.

David counted on his wife, Rebekah, to help him stay on track with his medication schedule, and both of them leaned on their Catholic faith for support. Their two grown children, who live elsewhere, were also able to spend some time with their father, 
but David and Rebekah depended on the Saint Luke’s team for both practical and emotional support. 

“Because our family doesn’t live here, we relied very heavily on Dr. Bansal and his staff, who were so amazing,” Rebekah said. “We feel tremendously blessed to be sent to Saint Luke’s. I have so much faith in that hospital.” 

David responded remarkably well to the new therapy. He had no major side effects to his new drug regimen, and soon began showing positive results. He and his family rejoiced when a PET scan in December 2022 showed no evidence of metastatic 
cancer. He also sleeps better, has regained the weight he lost, and is steadily building back strength in his legs. From a diagnosis 
of incurable, Stage 4 cancer with a low survival rate, David is now in complete remission and considered cancer-free. 

David says that everyone who witnessed his recovery agreed that it was nothing short of amazing. His results show that even advanced cancer can be cured when treated by experts employing state-of-the-art methods. 

"I have never been disappointed in Saint Luke’s,” David says. “Dr. Bansal could have said to himself, ‘At David’s age, he’s not my priority.’ But he didn’t. Between him and the good Lord, I am very grateful.”