Pancreatic Cancer Patients Fly Thousands of Miles to Be Treated in Milwaukee

Take a look into this local, world-class cancer program.


This story is part of our Top Docs feature from the May Issue of Milwaukee Magazine. To read our full guide to finding a physician, order your copy today


Yuval Makovsky, a 45-year-old from Israel, was used to jetting around the world for his job in business. What he never expected was that he’d fly halfway across the world to Milwaukee to be treated for cancer. 

After a pancreatic cancer diagnosis in April 2021, Makovsky began exploring international treatment options. “It was clear this would be a complicated surgery, and a lot of the success would be dependent on the surgeon and the hospital,” he says. An Israeli medical consultant told him about Froedtert’s world-renowned pancreatic cancer program, and Makovsky flew to Milwaukee for the first time in July.

Pancreatic cancer is, indeed, one of the most challenging cancers to treat. Susan Tsai, director of Froedtert’s LaBahn Pancreatic Cancer Program, says it’s rarer and harder to screen than other types. By the time someone learns they’ve got the disease, it’s often more advanced.

Dr. Susan Tsai; Photo courtesy of Froedtert Health

That’s especially harrowing given the high rates of pancreatic cancer here in Wisconsin. Genetic factors play a strong role in developing the disease, as do lifestyle choices like smoking. There’s no empirical evidence yet, but Tsai says it’s possible environmental exposure – say, hours logged in a mill – could impact Wisconsin’s rates, too. (The Fox Valley, home to paper mills, is a hot spot.) 

Froedtert has always treated the toughest cancers, but the hospital’s 2009 recruitment of Dr. Douglas Evans, an internationally renowned pancreatic surgeon and surgical oncologist, changed everything. Historically, doctors had treated pancreatic cancer with surgery followed by systemic treatments like chemo and radiation. In clinical trials, Evans pioneered the use of chemotherapy before a patient’s surgery, nearly doubling the 24-month average post-surgery survival rate.

Today, MCW researchers continue searching for ways to extend that. “We’re happy with the near doubling of survival, but when you talk to a person who has the disease, four years isn’t acceptable,” says Tsai. That tenacity, coupled with a world-class care team, draws patients from around the world.

Makovsky completed chemo last summer, then returned to Froedtert for surgery in September 2021. Today, cancer-free, he’s evidence that ingenuity pays off. “People tend to think of pancreatic cancer as a death sentence,” says Tsai. “We’re trying to flip the script on that and give patients more hope.”

More Top-Flight Local Programs

FROEDTERT’S Hand and Upper Extremity program, a joint effort between highly specialized orthopedic and plastic surgeons, treats the most severe, complex injuries that come through the emergency department – eastern Wisconsin’s only adult Level 1 Trauma Center.

ASCENSION COLUMBIA ST. MARY’S Regional Burn Center, the first of its kind in the state and fourth in the nation, was established in 1959 with financial assistance from the Wisconsin Electric Co. after a power plant accident. Using cutting-edge dressing and graft treatment, the center treats patients with minor and life-threatening burns (including frostbite).

ADVOCATE AURORA HEALTH’S world-class cardiovascular care program ranks among the top 10% of centers for minimally invasive, robotic-assisted heart surgery. St. Luke’s Medical Center offers 24/7 emergency cardiac surgery and has performed over 1,000 heart transplants.

Along with caring for the sickest kids in the region, CHILDREN’S WISCONSIN is also a leader in supporting youngsters’ mental health. Pediatric psychotherapists work in every primary care clinic, and in March 2022, CW launched a walk-in clinic for kids in crisis.


 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s May issue.

Find it on newsstands or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop

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