Kevin Heslin is celebrating an anniversary he wasnt sure hed live to see.
In 2006, he was diagnosed with colon cancer that had spread to his liver. Odds were he wouldnt live five years.
Heslins doctors referred him to Dr. David Iannitti, a liver specialist at Carolinas Medical Center who was looking for the right patient to undergo the first microwave ablation surgery in Charlotte.
Iannitti and I had a deal, Heslin recalls. Id be his first patient, and hed make sure it was successful.
And it was.
Five and a half years later, 54-year-old Heslin gets scans of his liver every six months but continues to be cancer free.
Hes healthy enough to travel the world as an executive in charge of global compensation and benefits for an international company. He continues to enjoy his favorite hobby now that medical restrictions have been lifted from his pilots license. And last August he and his wife, Barb, saw their daughter, Rebecca, get married.
Heslin often gets calls and messages from strangers who find the Observers 2008 story about his operation on the Internet. He credits his outcome to being diagnosed at the right place at the right time.
In 2006, Iannitti had recently arrived in Charlotte from Rhode Island, where he pioneered microwave ablation, a technique that involves burning hard-to-reach liver tumors with microwave energy.
Today, Iannitti said CMC has the busiest microwave program in the United States. He performs about 100 procedures a year for patients in the Carolinas as well as other states and countries.
Earlier this month, Iannitti hosted a conference that attracted doctors from all 15 North American fellowships in the subspecialty of hepatobiliary surgery surgery of the liver, pancreas, gallbladder and bile duct.
The fellows watched video of Iannitti and his colleague, Dr. John Martinie, performingsurgeries at CMC. Then, the fellows tried it on simulators at the hospital.
In contrast to Heslins surgery with a large belly incision, Iannitti now performs microwave ablation laparoscopically, using small incisions. Another difference is that he now uses an advanced image guidance system that gives a computerized 3D image, instead of a two-dimensional ultrasound picture.
Iannitti, whos in demand as a speaker for medical conferences around the world, says: Our program has definitely come a long way.