Continued from Part 1

Treating Mesothelioma is a “Team Sport”

The first heated chemotherapy procedure at the Boston VA was a success because of the team of people involved. Dr. Avi Lebenthal may be one of the best mesothelioma surgeons in the country, but he couldn’t accomplish anything without his team and the VA.

“There were a number of people that if they didn’t all sort of act together it wouldn’t have been possible,” Dr. Lebenthal told Mesothelioma Guide. It was a combined effort between surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists, administrators, and the list goes on.

It’s an intense and complicated procedure that has been perfected in recent years by mesothelioma specialists like Dr. Lebenthal. Performing a cytoreductive surgery alone is challenging enough and adding the chemotherapy only amplifies the complexity.

“It’s a team sport and it’s like winning the superbowl,” he said. “You can’t have any weak links and everybody’s got to be on the same page.”

A Veteran and a Doctor

Dr. Lebenthal is dedicated to treating veterans with mesothelioma but not only does he treat veterans, he is one. Dr. Lebenthal is originally from Israel and served for 18 years in the Israeli Army. During that time he served in multiple infantry and elite units and by the time he left the army he had risen to the rank of Major.

For part of his service, Dr. Lebenthal served as an Army physician. A commander gave Dr. Lebenthal a rare honor by writing him a “letter of distinction” for caring for soldiers under fire.

“I identify with the veterans,” he said. “You know, I did some time of my own in the service. I believe that it’s important to give them the best care because they’ve earned it. I think that this is a disease that a lot of them got as a result of their service and part of the things you learn in the military is ownership, so that’s part of why I do this.”

How to Get Mesothelioma Treatment from the VA

The Roxbury Campus of the Boston VA offers screening to any vets with VA health care through phone triage. Patients or their doctors can call Dr. Lebenthal and his team to explain the veteran’s situation and be screened over the phone.

The phone call serves a few different purposes. When the patient describes their symptoms to Dr. Lebenthal this can give him an idea of how serious their condition is and if they seem healthy enough to have surgery. But Dr. Lebenthal also wants to examine the patient’s’ state of mind.

Dr. Lebenthal said he is looking for patients who have “fighting spirit, in other words they want to battle this thing and not give up.” He said when patients who “want to fight” and are candidates for surgery, “then I’m willing to try to take them through it”

After the phone call, if the patient seems like a candidate, he asks them to mail their medical records to him. He and his team will look over the data and decide if the patient should come to Boston.

The Future of VA Health Care

Dr. Lebenthal was inspired when he came to Brigham and Women’s and saw that Dr. Sugarbaker and Dr. Bueno’s patients were living years longer than the average prognosis. “Seeing is believing,” Dr. Lebenthal said. His experience at Brigham and Women’s showed him that there was hope for mesothelioma patients and this convinced him to focus his efforts on treating them.

The mesothelioma program at the Boston VA is unique. It’s not just a VA Hospital, it’s a VA Hospital backed by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the International Mesothelioma Program (IMP), The Dana Farber Institute, and Harvard University.

He is proud that the mesothelioma program at the VA can now perform heated chemotherapy with surgery. “Without the help of the Brigham, the IMP, and the administration of the VA in Boston, this would not have been possible. This was definitely a big team effort,” Dr. Lebenthal said.

Dr. Lebenthal plans to perform a lot more of these operations at the VA now. “It’s exciting. We’re able to really offer the best care that’s available in any of the teaching institutions and that you know…that’s just incredible.”

Much of this information was collected during an interview with Dr. Lebenthal. The interview was performed with express permission granted by the Public Relations office at the West Roxbury VA on October 2, 2015.

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    About the Writer, Jamie Iovino

    Jamie Iovino is the senior writer at Mesothelioma Guide. She creates and edits pages to make sure mesothelioma patients and their families receive the newest and most accurate information about mesothelioma.