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Otorhinolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery

Patient Stories

Institute for Human Communication

Thomasina Harris

Thomasina Harris, 59, had a sore throat. By her own admission, she'd suffered from tonsil problems most of her life, so she didn't view this particular episode as anything out of the ordinary. She would go to the doctor and after a check up, receive a prescription for penicillin which she would dutifully take until everything was OK.

This time was different. She went to an ear, nose and throat doctor who referred her to an IHC expert. A biopsy performed in June confirmed that she had cancer. Two months later, robotic surgery was performed on Harris. The cancer was removed and Mrs. Harris returned to work as an EEG tech, cancer free.

Dr. Bertrand Bell

Dr. Bertrand Bell is nearly a legend in the medical community, not just in the city of New York where he was born and raised, and where he has been a physician for some 55 years. The head of the Bell Commission, Dr. Bell and a committee of distinguished medical professionals created the new standard in the amount of hours a medical resident can work per week and issued stricter rules regarding their supervision. These recommendations were implemented by the state of New York in 1989.

But the famous Dr. Bell is also a cancer survivor.

In December of 2007, Bell noticed that he had become quite hoarse, and went to see a prominent Ear, Nose and Throat specialist in New York who diagnosed him as having inflamed vocal cords. It sounded logical, but the hoarseness persisted.

Then, during a Sunday brunch with his wife's cousin, a resident at Montefiore Medical Center, he learned about the experts at Institute for Human Communication (IHC). He promptly sought out a second opinion and was diagnosed with a superficial carcinoma on the larynx.

Dr. Bell underwent a biopsy, which revealed he had larynx cancer, and began treatment.

"He initially had a positive response to standard radiation therapy, but his tumor was aggressive and resurfaced one year later," Richard Smith, MD, Head and Neck Surgeon stated.

After much deliberation about how to maximize Dr. Bell's outcome, the Tumor Board concluded he needed to undergo a laryngectomy.

"We did the procedure robotically," explains Dr. Smith, who has five years experience with robotic surgery. "We then reconstructed his voice with a prosthesis in the back of his trachea and he's resumed a lot of his activities, including teaching and practicing medicine. He thought this was going to be the end of his life, but he's really changed his feelings about that."

Thanks to Montefiore's experienced team of surgeons and physicians, as well as its cutting edge technology, Dr. Bell was declared cancer free and is more talkative now than ever.

"One of the striking aspects of Montefiore," he said, "is that it's extremely patient friendly. I can honestly say that — cancer not withstanding — I thoroughly enjoyed the experience."

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