Albert Arillotta thought things couldn't get much worse after he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. But once it was treated, the real pain began.

A father of three children and an avid golfer, 52-year-old Albert 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.

New problems surface after treatment ends

Albert had surgery at Mass General 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.

While reeling from the news and facing more cancer treatment, Albert 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 felt like glass shards in his back, Albert was running out of options. His doctors asked him to consider surgery to stabilize his bones using a metal plate.

I was looking for an alternative to invasive surgery.

Albert Arillotta
Mass General Patient

Relief through vertebral augmentation

Pleading for more choices, Albert was referred to neurointerventional radiologist Joshua Hirsch, MD for pain management. “I was looking for an alternative to invasive surgery,” he says.

Mass General Imaging Patient Stories: Albert
Albert and Leslie Arillotta

Dr. Hirsch, co-director of the neuroendovascular program and chief of the Neurointerventional Spine Service at Mass General, quickly zeroed in on the source of Albert’s discomfort. He had suffered dozens of tiny fractures when his cancer spread, weakening the delicate bones in his lower back.

Dr. 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, it delivers the targeted treatment through a small incision under image guidance.

The results were immediate. “The pain was gone,” Albert reports of the procedure he calls his “Hail Mary.” For the first time in months, he felt healthy and hopeful.

Today, less than a year after treatment, Albert is pain-free without medication and 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 care team at Mass General. "If you don't have a great team, you won't go to the World Series."

Without doctors from across the hospital including Radiology, Urology, Neurosurgery and the Cancer Center, he says, "I wouldn't be here."

Albert's Story: A Video

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