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Last month, BWH patient Sandy Vann spent a few days in the Caribbean, enjoying the sun and warm weather.
It was a much-needed rest for the upstate New York resident, who, just a few months prior, didn’t know if a family vacation was still an option after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in February. Her doctors in New York told her that she could not be treated with radiation or surgery because the cancer was located right behind a pacemaker, which had been implanted in her chest three years prior to treat her congestive heart failure.
That’s when a friend suggested she come to BWH.
“The Brigham saved my life,” said Vann, who works as a teacher. “I was really fortunate to end up here and that the resources were available for my care.”
After an assessment, BWH physicians began discussing what could be done to save Vann’s life and remove the breast cancer.
Laurence Epstein, MD, chief of the Cardiac Arrhythmia Service at BWH, and Esther Rhei, MD, medical director of the BWH Comprehensive Breast Center and oncologist at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, came up with a novel solution that combined the cardiac and breast cancer surgeries Vann required. Such a procedure is not common; not many hospitals have world-renowned cancer and cardiovascular care centers just steps apart.
Together, Epstein and Rhei collaborated to envision and complete a complex three-hour operation, during which they temporarily relocated Vann’s pacemaker and removed the tumor. Once the tumor was removed, the pacemaker was placed back in her chest.
“Today, I’m cancer-free and have so much gratitude for Drs. Epstein and Rhei, and for everyone who cared for me at BWH,” said Vann.