Albert Arillotta did not think things could get much worse after he was diagnosed with cancer. A father of three children and an avid golfer, 52-year-old Arillotta enjoyed a healthy, active lifestyle until the day he received shocking news after a CT scan: he had kidney cancer. “It was like someone hit me with a hammer,” he recalls.
Arillotta had surgery at the MGH to remove his kidney. About a month later, he began experiencing severe lower back pain. “The pain was unbearable. I couldn’t explain it, it was off the chart,” he says. An MRI revealed that the cancer had spread to his bones.
Still reeling from the news and facing additional cancer treatment, Arillotta also was living in constant pain. He slept in a chair to avoid the agony of getting in and out of bed. After trying narcotics, steroid injections and a nerve block to control what he says felt like glass shards in his back, Arillotta was running out of options. His doctors asked him to consider surgery that would stabilize his bones with a metal plate.
Pleading for more choices for pain management, Arillotta was referred to Joshua Hirsch, MD, co-director of the neuroendovascular program and chief of minimally invasive spine surgery. “I was looking for an alternative to invasive surgery,” Arillotta says.
Hirsch quickly zeroed in on the source of Arillotta’s discomfort. He had suffered dozens of tiny fractures when the cancer spread, weakening the delicate bones in his lower back. Hirsch suggested vertebral augmentation, a minimally invasive approach to pain relief that uses a cement-like substance to repair fractures. Like other techniques using interventional radiology, augmentation delivers the targeted treatment through a small incision under image guidance.
The results were immediate. “The pain was gone,” Arillotta reports of the procedure he calls his “Hail Mary.” For the first time in months, he felt healthier and hopeful.
Today, less than a year after treatment, Arillotta is pain-free without medication and is back at his job in demolition construction. He walks with assistance but anticipates being able to golf again soon with the help of physical therapy.
“It’s like baseball,” Albert says when discussing his MGH care team. “If you don’t have a great team, you won’t go to the World Series.”
Watch Arillotta share his story on the MGH YouTube channel.
Read more articles from the 03/06/15 Hotline issue.