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A 'top-shelf' care team

Elliott with dog, Brandy. (Photo: Emily Pillsbury)

Susan Doherty calls her 13-year-old son’s experience with hepotoblastoma—a rare pediatric liver cancer— a “life-altering experience.”

Eighteen months ago, she brought Elliott to an emergency room for severe abdominal pain, which she thought was appendicitis. Instead, the physician found an 11-centimeter mass on his liver. “As a parent, it was terrifying,” she says. Three days later, Elliott underwent surgery at University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital.

Elliott’s care team—Donavon Hess, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., Joseph Neglia, M.D., M.P.H., Timothy Pruett, M.D.,William Payne, M.D., and Nissa Erickson, M.D.—are all “top-shelf” people, says Doherty. “We would have come to the University from no matter where we lived.”

Unfortunately, that first surgery was just the beginning. Elliott’s cancer returned to his liver, lighting up several spots on a PET/CT scan. Four rounds of chemotherapy followed, but it became evident that a new liver would give him the best chance at survival.

Amazingly, on the ideal day he was eligible to receive a transplant, a donor liver became available. Although the surgery went well, Elliott suffered severe complications and underwent another liver transplant just 13 days later, in addition to completing two final courses of chemotherapy.

Fortunately, the cancer is gone, Elliott has gained 20 pounds, he’s on the track team, and he’s made the seventh-grade honor roll.

Pulling Elliott and his family through were not only the physicians, but many Amplatz team members. “A lot of the care is [delivered] by the support people. All of these people kept us connected and pulled us along,” Doherty says.

“When people give money to Amplatz Children’s Hospital, they’re giving money to provide that level of care and survivorship,” she adds. “They’re giving it to the people who choose to commit their lives to finding innovative treatments and ultimately caring for real children with very serious health issues.”

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