Surgeon extending lives in battle against Mesothelioma

Jonathan C. Daniel, MD
Jonathan C. Daniel, MD

In the first successful surgery of its kind in Southern Arizona, Jonathan C. Daniel, MD, a University of Arizona thoracic surgeon, performed a highly complex procedure to treat malignant mesolthelioma on Tucsonan James Massie, a former presidential interpreter and retired Marine.

A rare and deadly form of cancer associated with asbestos exposure, mesothelioma invades the thin lining of the body’s organs, most commonly the lungs. Without treatment, life expectancy is six months. Chemotherapy can extend life by only a few more months.

But since the arrival last September of thoracic surgeon Dr. Daniel, an assistant professor in the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery in the UA Department of Surgery, patients have a surgical option, an extrapleural pneumonectomy or radical pleurectomy.

While it is not expected to be a cure, Massie, 65, hopes the procedure, which took place in February, will add years to his life.

“We want to truly enjoy life as much as we can – hiking, camping, just enjoying each other’s company,’’ Massie said of the time that he and Sherry, his wife of 35 years, have been given as a result of the surgery.

Dr. Daniel performed the surgery at University Medical Center (UMC), the Arizona Cancer Center's clinical partner, five months after arriving from Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School in Boston. Since then, he has performed five similar procedures.

With pre-operative chemotherapy administered at the Arizona Cancer Center by nationally recognized mesothelioma oncologist Linda Garland, MD, and post-op intensity modulated radiation by Alexander Chi, MD, Dr. Daniel hopes to develop the premier center for mesothelioma treatment in the Southwest.

Arizona residents with the disease who were approved for surgery used to have to travel to Houston, San Francisco or Boston to locate one of a handful of specialists trained to perform it. Massie was considering having the procedure done in San Francisco.

“It’s a surgical treatment most people don’t feel comfortable doing,’’ Dr. Daniel said. “The disease is very aggressive. The tumor grows up against anything it touches and often invades surrounding structures.’’

Because of the complex nature of the surgery and a difficult recovery, it is preferred for a patient to stay close to home, Dr. Daniel said.

After Dr. Daniel arrived in Tucson, Massie was approved for surgery at UMC, first undergoing four rounds of chemotherapy. During the five-hour surgery, Dr. Daniel removed the tumor, the lung, the covering of the heart and the diaphragm. A new pericardium – or covering of the heart - and diaphragm were created with the synthetic material Gore-Tex, commonly used in ski gloves. Following surgery, radiation was used to blast Massie’s chest cavity to prevent the cancer from returning.

“A cure with mesothelioma is really hard to achieve,’’ Dr. Daniel said. “We are trying to extend life. Right now he’s free of disease as we know. If we didn’t do anything, he would probably be in hospice as we speak.’’

Having recently finished grueling radiation sessions, Massie is getting stronger. He and his wife are taking short hikes and walks. They plan to travel later this year.

Fluent in Russian and Arabic, Massie enjoyed a successful military career. He worked at the consulate in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. He later was a Russian interpreter for the State Department in Moscow, and worked for the White House as a presidential translator. He was an intelligence analyst during the Reagan years.

He met Sherry while teaching Russian at the University of California – Irvine, where she was his student. They are thankful for the highly skilled UA physicians they have encountered on their medical journey.

“Our hope is to get as many years as we can,’’ Sherry Massie said.

See Dr. Daniel on television in the new TV series “Boston Med.”
The show, which airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on ABC, includes Dr. Jonathan Daniel as a thoracic surgery resident. His wife, Sarah Daniel, who is now physician assistant to Thomas D. Brown, Arizona Cancer Center Chief Operating Officer, also appears in some episodes of the show. In the July 1 episode, Dr. Daniel is treating a patient with mesothelioma. “Boston Med.” was filmed at three Boston hospitals, including Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where Dr. Daniel received training before coming to the UA. To learn more visit Boston Med.

- June 30, 2010