Joyce Senorin © Courtesy of VGH & UBC Hosptial Foundation
A mother of two noticed pain on her tongue, only to receive the devastating news that she had salivary gland cancer and needed treatment immediately. An engineering student with a toothache has her world turned upside-down when it’s discovered she has a tumour lining her jawbone, risking deformity and death. A police officer and fitness nut who finds a bump on his neck faces the grim reality of throat cancer.
At Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), these patients have not only survived their complex and challenging medical conditions, they are thriving today. And each of them shared one thing in common: the care of a world-leading innovative medical expert, Dr. Eitan Prisman.
Pushing the boundaries of medicine
Dr. Prisman is a specialist in head and neck cancer and microvascular reconstruction of the head and neck. His clinical expertise includes oral, larynx, thyroid, salivary gland and cutaneous malignancies. And as much as he is a practicing surgeon, providing care first-hand to individuals suffering from all manner of medical diseases of the head and neck, he is also an innovative researcher, constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible in medical care.
Specifically, Dr. Prisman utilizes groundbreaking technology to create the most efficient and optimal outcomes for his patients. He does so by utilizing international training in the use of robotics in procedures such as Trans Oral Robotic Surgery (TORS) and microvascular reconstructive surgery.
He compliments these surgeries with other technological advancements, including utilizing a 3D printer and a proprietary software he and his team built to run simulations of surgeries in order to find the most efficient way to approach complex surgeries on real patients.
And no one knows that better than Joyce Senorin.
A young woman’s life—and future—saved
“It’s just a toothache.” Or at least that’s what Joyce thought at the time. The pain would come and go, so she wasn’t overly concerned, but Joyce mentioned it to her dentist, who thought it was an infection, and she was eventually referred to an oral surgeon.
Due to the pandemic, Joyce wouldn’t be able to see the specialist for almost two years. What she learned turned her world upside-down.
“I had a tumour in my jaw that was growing so aggressively it was ‘eating’ my left jawbone,” Joyce said. “The bone had become so thin that I had to go on a puree diet immediately just to avoid further damage. I was…terrified.”
Joyce was suffering from a rare bone tumour called ameloblastoma. It needed to be removed, or it would soon leave Joyce unable to eat or speak. Without proper care, it could become fatal.
“The more I read about the surgery, more worried I became, because apparently after the surgery, you might need to rehabilitate your jaw,” Joyce said. “As in, learn how to talk and learn how to chew and learn how to smile again. That scared me. ‘Cause I was just like, what? I’m not going to be able to do something that’s very basic anymore?”
This was when she met Dr. Prisman at VGH, who walked her through precisely what needed to be done to help put her fears at rest.
“This was on the jaw, which would mean it would grow so large it would prevent her possibly from speaking, eating, and it could deform her face. It’s not a tumour you can live with by any means,” Dr. Prisman said. “Now, Joyce was remarkably healthy with her whole life ahead of her. To me, this meant I wanted to optimize the procedure to reduce any impact it may have on the rest of her life. One of my areas of passions is to optimize outcomes for patients.”
The importance of planning
Dr. Prisman had to do a “full section” removal due to the tumour’s location. This means he had to remove the entire area of the jawbone and replace it.
“The complexity with the jawbone is how much we use it every day,” he said. “There’s constant motion and pressure. You can’t just throw a titanium plate in because the bone will not fuse properly and then you’re dealing with a whole other problem.”
Instead, Dr. Prisman needed more bone.
“We only have one jawbone, so we took her shoulder bone, specifically the scapula,” Dr. Prisman said. “And then we virtually designed what needed to happen in order to optimize the outcome.”
Using CT scans and modelling of Joyce’s bone structure, Dr. Prisman utilized simulation software he and his team designed. It ran hundreds of virtual surgeries on Joyce before landing on the most optimal one for Dr. Prisman to perform.
This pre-surgical preparation is key for improving outcomes, as it reduces the amount of time a patient is in surgery by hours. This reduces inflammation, soreness, the chance of infection, and increases the likelihood of surgical success.
“Joyce’s surgery went textbook,” Dr. Prisman said. “She had zero complications.”
Today, Joyce is happily moving forward in her life. She has a burgeoning business in calligraphy for weddings and events and is even looking to get married herself in the near future.
“I’m so grateful for Dr. Prisman,” she said. “He saved my life.”
Powered by donations, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation is proud to support the career of Dr. Eitan Prisman. It’s because of individuals like him that VGH can be a world leader in health care, saving and improving lives every day.
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VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation is Vancouver Coastal Health’s primary philanthropic partner, raising funds for specialized adult health services and research for all British Columbians.