Retired Minneapolis nurse who was given months to live owing to groundbreaking cancer treatment. Due to her pioneering efforts, many more will benefit from the novel procedure developed at Northwestern Medicine to treat patients with COVID-19. Tannaz Ameli is a prime example.
Ameli had been experiencing persistent cold-like symptoms for quite some time before receiving the devastating diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer in early 2022.
“So being a healthy, cautious person for all my life, it was very shocking to hear that,” Ameli said in an interview Sunday.
After three months, the chemotherapy was no longer effective and her prognosis was given as two to three months.
She was advised to enter hospice care when a ray of hope appeared. Ameli learned about Albert Khoury, a guy from Philadelphia who went all the way to Northwestern Medicine in Chicago to get the first successful double lung transplant.
Without pause, she reached out and there she heard the single best sentence a cancer patient could from a doctor: “I can make you cancer free.”
“I could not believe what I’m hearing,” Ameli recalled.
“Not many patients are lucky enough to hear that,” she continued, adding, “Either they just control the cancer cells or just extend your life for months or years. But being cancer-free, it’s a word that rarely a cancer patient hears.”
Soon after that, everything began to fall into place. She underwent a battery of tests at Northwestern Medicine and found out she qualified for organ donation within two weeks. On July 10, 2022, Ameli underwent thoracic surgery performed by Dr. Ankit Bharat; as promised, he emerged from the procedure cancer-free.
“I think that in some patients that it will be a game changer,” Bharat added in a separate interview on Sunday.
Bharat said that while lung transplants and even double-lung transplants have been routine in operating rooms for decades, they have been welcomed with “mixed excitement” among cancer patients.
“Since the standard procedure for a lung transplant entails removing one lung, implanting the new lung, and then… replacing the second lung,”
He warned that leaving behind even a few cancer cells could give the disease a second chance to spread.
Northwestern medical professionals have developed a method to simultaneously remove both lungs, with the chest cavity being closely monitored for cancer cells, before the insertion of the new lungs. Khoury and Ameli made history by trying it out as the first patients with lung cancer.
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It was first conceived as a method for treating people with COVID-19. According to Bharat, “we completed a number of such transplants,” and in 2022, they were the first to undertake such a procedure.
Bharat praised Ameli and her family for taking “calculated risks” that pushed medical progress forward.
“I think these innovative ways don’t normally happen in medicine without that trust, without that advocacy,” he continued.
“I’m not going to give you up,” Ameli’s husband said to her every night.
This Monday, Northwestern Medicine announced a new clinical trial, allowing for additional patients to be transplanted and further research into the transplant’s success.
Bharat pointed out that it is not a viable choice for the vast majority of people with lung cancer. Instead, it’s a last resort for those like Ameli who have tried everything else without success. Furthermore, this treatment option is restricted to patients whose cancer has been diagnosed solely in the lungs.
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