Life-Saving Procedure Gives “Grandpa” More Time

Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith whips up breakfast for his four adopted daughters. The sisters squirm in their assigned seats around the kitchen island, waiting for the morning meal. Joseph’s wife, Linda, selects their clothes for the school day.

After breakfast and dressing for school, the girls stand single file, ready for their turn to have “grandpa” brush their hair. Bear, one of the Smiths’ two dogs, finds a spot of sunshine pouring through the screen door, where he can lay on his side and escape the morning hubbub.

Joseph, a 74-year-old retired ironworker from rural Cantrall and a great-grandfather, never envisioned he would be the adopted dad of four energetic girls, from 4-year-old Abby to 8-year-old Elizabeth with Carly and Isabella in between. A large wall calendar off the kitchen is covered in pencil scribblings with the times of birthday parties, ice skating adventures and tumbling classes.

The calendar is a promise of the future memories that Joseph never knew he would have when he was diagnosed in January 2014 with a rare abdominal cancer that was already well advanced. He calculated that he had 18 months to live – at best.

That was before Joseph met with Sabha Ganai, MD, a surgical oncologist at SIU HealthCare, who told him about a potentially life-saving surgical treatment, hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy, or HIPEC, that rinses the abdominal cavity with heated chemotherapy. He became the first person in central Illinois to receive the procedure.

Joseph’s cancer, peritoneal mesothelioma, attacks the peritoneum, a membrane that lines the abdominal cavity and the organs within it. Only a few hundred people are diagnosed with it each year. They have few treatment options and typically survive less than a year.

Joseph first underwent traditional surgery to remove all the visible tumors, which included the removal of his spleen, appendix and lining of his diaphragm. For the next phase, a special pump injects a heated chemotherapy drug, mitomycin, which circulates throughout his abdominal cavity for about 90 minutes to destroy any remaining microscopic cancer cells.

Joseph spent a week in Memorial Medical Center following the surgery. His recovery has been good. He receives a CT scan every three months to make sure the cancer hasn’t resurfaced. He’s usually fatigued by the end of the day, but his doctors tell him he could be back at full strength in a year.

Joseph-Smith-and-FamilyWhile he gradually recovers, Joseph enjoys each new day with his four daughters, whom the Smiths adopted last year after their mother was diagnosed with cancer, which later claimed her life. (The mom was the former wife of one of their nephews, but the girls are not related to the Smiths.) The alternative would have been to stand by as the girls split up into different homes.

He’s grateful to Dr. Ganai and the medical procedure that has given him more time to be with his new family.

“Dr. Ganai is just great,” he said. “She’s our family hero.”