Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Advances in Brain Tumor Treatment Continue to Progress

Not only is brain cancer very rare, affecting less than 1 percent of the population, brain tumors can be both difficult to diagnose and to treat.

There are more than 120 different types of brain tumors that can have varying symptoms ranging from a headache to memory loss or seizures, depending on the tumor’s location in the brain. These symptoms often mimic other neurological conditions.

Brain tumors also have one of the least favorable outcomes. But Nicole Shonka, MD, neuro-onocolgist at Nebraska Medicine, says that is starting to change. While advancements in the treatment of brain cancers have been slow, there has been progress in small steps and Dr. Shonka is confident new advancements are just around the corner.

Nicole Shonka, MD

Dr. Shonka is the only fellowship-trained neuro-oncologist in the state specializing in brain tumors. An assistant professor in oncology/hematology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC), she joined the staff in 2010. Dr. Shonka received her medical degree from UNMC where she also completed her residency and general oncology fellowship. She completed an additional neuro-oncology fellowship at MD Anderson Cancer Center, one of the top cancer centers in the nation and a highly respected neuro-oncology fellowship – one of a few programs in the country. The program draws from a large population base that allows doctors to see up to 3,000 primary brain tumors a year. “Completing my training there allowed me to see many more brain tumors, including the rarer ones,” notes Dr. Shonka.

This is important, notes Dr. Shonka, “As there are many nuances in this field that you may not be aware of unless you have that additional training.”

Treatment for brain tumors typically involves surgery followed by radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy. Pseudo-progression and radiation necrosis are two conditions that can develop during cancer treatment that can be misinterpreted by the untrained eye and change the treatment regimen.

“Glioblastomas (the most common type of malignant brain tumor in adults) often develop pseudo-progression the first several months after treatment,” explains Dr. Shonka. “Pseudo-progression could easily be misinterpreted by someone unfamiliar with these cancers as evidence that the treatment is ineffective.”

Some patients may also develop radiation necrosis, which can appear to be additional tumor growth, she says.

Chemotherapy has been a big area of advancement for brain tumors. “In the past 10 years, we have developed better chemotherapies for treating brain cancers which have helped improve survival rates for nearly all brain cancer patients,” says Dr. Shonka.

Other advances lie in the realm of personalized medicine, in which cancer treatment is based on a person’s unique genetic makeup. In brain cancers, this includes the discovery of molecular markers which can provide both prognostic and predictive data. Scientists have also discovered variances in the molecular features of glioblastomas that have allowed them to classify them differently. This is spurring the development of personalized therapies based on these classifications.

“We are currently studying certain enzymes which can help predict a patient’s response to therapy or provide us information about their prognosis,” says Dr. Shonka. “This will help us determine what therapies to use and how aggressively to treat a patient.”

Dr. Shonka says she expects research to reach a new level at Nebraska Medicine with the creation of the new Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, which is expected to be open in 2017.

“With the new cancer center, we will all be housed in greater proximity which I believe will foster more collaboration among clinicians and researchers and should help to expedite moving new advances from basic sciences research to the bedside,” she says.

“This is an exciting time to be a neuro-oncologist and I’m increasingly optimistic about the future for patients with brain tumors,” says Dr. Shonka.

Pancreas Transplant Can Improve Quality of Life for Type 1 Diabetes Patients

A pancreas alone or pancreas/kidney transplant can greatly improve quality of life for patients with severe Type 1 diabetes.

“The key is to have them evaluated for a transplant, and get the disease process arrested before they experience end organ damage,” says Alexander Maskin, MD, assistant professor of surgery and transplant surgeon at Nebraska Medicine.

“If they receive a pancreas transplant early on, we can prevent or mitigate other complications from occurring such as diabetic retinopathy, neuropathy and nephropathy,” he says.

Alex Maskin, MD

Patients with difficult-to-manage Type 1 diabetes typically experience frequent swings in blood glucose levels, which can be difficult to control with some insulin regimens. Even worse, they can develop hypoglycemic unawareness in which their glucose levels drop so low that they can become unconscious. “This can be a life-threatening problem that can result in frequent emergency room visits and hospital admissions” says Dr. Maskin.

By the time the kidney pancreas transplant team evaluates them for surgery, many have also suffered severe kidney damage and require both a pancreas and kidney transplant.

The good news is that both pancreas and pancreas/kidney transplants are highly successful and curative. “Patients have better quality of life, don’t have to administer daily insulin injections, can eliminate most dietary and activity restrictions and no longer live in fear of having a seizure or episodes of unconsciousness,” says Dr. Maskin. “In addition, a functioning pancreas transplant can provide a level of protection for the kidneys and other organs affected by diabetic changes.”

The transplants can last 15 to 20 years. At that point, a patient can be reevaluated for a second transplant if needed, Dr. Maskin says. Pancreas transplants are not as frequently performed as kidney transplants so the waiting time is usually just a few months.

Nebraska Medicine’s pancreas and kidney/pancreas transplant program is one of the largest and most experienced programs in the Midwest. The program was started in 1989 when pancreas transplantation was still very new. Today, it is among the most active and pioneering programs in the world. Our transplant center became the fifth center in the world to perform more than 200 pancreas-only transplants and consistently ranks within the top five centers for performing adult pancreas transplants.

“We are committed to our patients,” says Dr. Maskin. “We follow our patients for life and are actively involved in their care.”

To learn more, make a referral or connect with a member of pancreas transplant team call 800-401-4444 or visit us online at

The Nebraska Medical Center, UNMC Physicians and Bellevue Medical Center now Nebraska Medicine

UNMC will remain separate entity but will share new logo for closer alignment

The Nebraska Medical Center, Bellevue Medical Center and UNMC Physicians – once three separate but interconnected organizations – are now one operating under one name: Nebraska Medicine.

Nebraska Medicine will continue to deliver the same familiar promise of “Serious Medicine. Extraordinary Care,” and will provide it to all of its patients wherever they may need it, whether it’s at their doctors’ office, a hospital, or an outpatient facility in Omaha, Bellevue, Plattsmouth or elsewhere throughout the region.

The newly integrated organization, which includes more than 6,100 employees, allows Nebraska Medicine to strengthen its services by expanding collaboration among its partners and providing patients with increased access to approximately 1,100 physicians and 678 licensed hospital beds as well as 39 ambulatory clinics in Omaha and the surrounding area.

Nebraska Medicine will continue to serve as the primary clinical teaching partner for the University of Nebraska Medical Center and its health sciences programs. UNMC, with about 4,700 employees, will remain a separate entity from Nebraska Medicine, but will share a new logo to more closely align the two organizations.

The three entities have been moving toward becoming one, clinically integrated organization for more than two years. Patients will now receive billing, communication and care in a more unified manner from Nebraska Medicine rather than from multiple organizations.

“This transition not only makes our organization stronger, but it also improves our patients’ experiences, through better coordination of care and more efficient access for our patients, among many other improvements,” said Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., UNMC chancellor and chairman of the Nebraska Medicine Advisory Board. “This integrated organization will gain increased national recognition as we transform lives to create a healthy future through extraordinary care, remarkable discovery and relevant learning.”

It also allows Nebraska Medicine to increase its scope of services by benefitting from each of the distinctly different capabilities of each of the individual organizations, Dr. Gold said.

“While we have a new name, we want to assure everyone this is still ‘the med center,’” said Bill Dinsmoor, CEO of Nebraska Medicine. “It retains the best of the founding organizations, while allowing us to provide the type of coordinated care that will be critical in a time of profound change in health care.”

A new name and logo is reflective of the organization’s more comprehensive level of services and also leans on the legacy of the individual entities that comprise it, Dinsmoor said.

The logo, or “emblem” – a shield featuring a subtle red “N” in the upper right corner – provides a visual representation of both organizations’ deep Nebraska roots and their shared mission to improve the human condition. Three white parallelograms around the N represent the education, research and patient care missions that were reflected previously in UNMC Physicians’ “ring” logo.

The shield is a symbol that The Nebraska Medical Center, Bellevue Medical Center and UNMC each used in their previous brands. It symbolizes leadership, courage and protection, Dr. Gold said.

“Today is a celebration of our transition into a single clinical enterprise that ultimately will better serve our patients,” said Bradley Britigan, M.D., president of Nebraska Medicine and dean of the UNMC College of Medicine. “It represents the next stage of a strong Nebraska health care organization known for its excellence, innovation and quality patient care, as well as its cutting-edge internationally recognized medical research and its education of the majority of Nebraska health care providers.”

“It allows us to unite all our employees under a new identity,” Dinsmoor said. “The name reflects that we are more than a single hospital location or a collection of clinics – that we are a health care provider that extends across the region and into your neighborhood.”

Dinsmoor said the hospitals have more than 25,000 discharges annually, and the clinic staff sees more than 500,000 patient visits yearly.

While Nebraska Medicine will adopt the “Serious Medicine. Extraordinary Care” tagline used by The Nebraska Medical Center, UNMC will retain its “Breakthroughs for Life” tagline.

“The taglines reflect the mission of each enterprise,” Dr. Britigan said. “Given the exceptionally strong public recognition and resonance that already exists with these taglines, it made perfect sense to continue to use them.”

Changes to signs across campus will start immediately and will continue in the near future to ensure that the new brand is visible for both employees and patients. Many signs on campus will feature the shared logo and the names Nebraska Medicine and UNMC.

Specific locations will be identified individually with the new logo, for example: Nebraska Medicine – Nebraska Medical Center; Nebraska Medicine – Bellevue; Nebraska Medicine – Village Pointe; Nebraska Medicine – Eagle Run.

“This is an investment in the future of our organization that must be made considering our role as a leading academic medical center and the evolving health care market that exists in the region,” Dr. Gold said.

Answered prayers

My nephew has a new kidney!

Jeffery Spellman, the young man I told you about earlier this year, has a beautiful new, fully functioning kidney as of June 2.

We are grateful and indebted to the incredible generosity of an unknown donor and their family and will always be praying for them.


Lisa Spellman and her nephew, Jeffery

They will never know the magnitude of this gift.

But we do. I do. And so do total strangers to whom I have spontaneously blurted out the good news.

“My nephew just got a kidney transplant and it’s working perfectly!”

The looks of surprise quickly turn into smiles and hearty congratulations.

Happiness is definitely infectious.

We have a lot to be happy about. And the transplant team couldn’t be happier with how perfectly matched the donor kidney is to Jeffery. You can’t get better than 100 percent, with zero antigens.

Jeffery had 99 out of 100 antigens and finding that one person whom he would be compatible with, well, it took two years. For others, the wait is much longer.

This transplant was definitely orchestrated by a higher power.

Jeffery should have waited 10 years for a kidney, his transplant surgeon, Alexander Maskin, M.D., told us.

The best part was when he said the kidney began producing urine immediately. It’s as if it woke up the moment it touched Jeffery’s body.

As for the surgery, which we were sure would last well into the night, it only lasted two hours and 39 minutes.

We were amazed by how quickly things went.

Dr. Maskin seemed to think it took longer than the usual hour procedure.

“He was a very difficult transplant,” he said explaining the length of time to Jeffery’s wife Ashleigh and other family members in the waiting room that night.

As Dr. Maskin explained the surgery he spoke of a potentially fatal infection that he discovered in Jeffery’s bladder that would have destroyed the new kidney.

Someone was definitely looking out for Jeffery and his precious new kidney.

Jeffery will be just fine.

And I can breathe again.

UNMC hosting largest study ever done on rare movement disorder

More than 50 patients from around the world have come to Omaha
It’s a debilitating disorder that causes people to feel like they are going to fall down when they are standing.

It’s called primary orthostatic tremor (OT), and this week the University of Nebraska Medical Center is hosting more than 50 OT patients from around the world in what is the largest study ever done with OT patients.

“It’s a very rare condition, so it’s quite an achievement to get so many patients to congregate in Omaha,” said Diego Torres-Russotto, M.D., a movement disorders specialist at UNMC. “OT is a miserable disease. Hopefully, this study will help us come up with some answers for these people.”

Dr. Torres-Russotto, who is an associate professor in neurological sciences, said patients will be coming from Spain, England, Canada, Australia and the United States.

The International Orthostatic Tremor Meeting started Monday evening and will run through Friday. This marks the second time Omaha has hosted the event, with the previous Omaha meeting held in 2012. Last year, the meeting was held in Australia.

The patients will each undergo a two-hour physical examination by a movement disorder specialist and a physical therapist, as well as electrophysiological studies. The goal of the study will be to determine if the patients really do have postural instability and to assess the presence of ataxia, a neurological sign consisting of lack of voluntary coordination of muscle movements.

In addition to Dr. Torres-Russotto, the research team in neurological sciences includes: John Bertoni, M.D., Ph.D., professor, and Amy Hellman, M.D. and Danish Bhatti, M.D., both assistant professors.

Collaborators from UNMC’s hospital partner, The Nebraska Medical Center, include: Jen McKune, Lori Schmaderer and Katie Blacketer — Physical Therapy Department; and Cindy Penke, Regan Iske and Bobbi Roeder – case managers in the Movement Disorders Department.

Dr. Torres-Russotto said participants in this year’s study will go through four new features:

  • They will undergo an electroencephalogram (EEG) test, which records brain waves in an effort to determine the place in the brain that is causing the problems. Najib Murr, M.D., assistant professor, neurological sciences, will be performing and analyzing the EEG arm of the study.
  • They will test a smart phone app that can be used to diagnose the disease by measuring tremors in the legs.
  • They will receive specialized video analysis developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • They will receive psychiatric assessment by a UNMC psychiatrist, Mark Fleisher, M.D., that will attempt to measure their level of suffering.
    OT is characterized by high frequency tremors of the legs when in a standing position and an immediate sense of instability. Because of the speed of the contractions, OT is often not recognized as a tremor when compared to essential tremor or Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Torres-Russotto said OT is greatly underdiagnosed and often misdiagnosed as other neurological problems such as Parkinson’s, essential tremor or psychogenic problems.

“People with OT do not typically complain of tremors,” he said. “Their biggest problem is the sudden disabling event that occurs when they stand. They feel unsteadiness and imbalance while standing. They can only stand for a short period of time, in some cases only seconds. There might be a feeling of panic. They need to sit down or start walking to relieve their symptoms.”

OT is a repeating cycle that happens all through the day, he said. It is life-changing and unrelenting.

“It is an incapacitating disorder,” Dr. Torres-Russotto said. “It impacts your life in just about every way imaginable and makes routine tasks such as going to church, standing in line at the grocery checkout, even going to the bathroom a major challenge.”

Some other facts about OT include:

·        It is more common in females.

·        There’s usually a 10-15 year lag between onset of symptoms and diagnosis.

·        Onset typically occurs around age 40.

·        It won’t kill you, but it typically gets worse over time.

·        Diagnosis is confirmed through electromyography, or EMG, a test that measures the electrical activity of muscles.

·        By touching something, the feeling of falling improves.

The UNMC study will be blinded, Dr. Torres-Russotto said, as half the participants will have OT and the other half will have no balance issues.

He hopes the study will lead to further research and treatment options.

For more information on OT, go to

Through world-class research and patient care, UNMC generates breakthroughs that make life better for people throughout Nebraska and beyond. Its education programs train more health professionals than any other institution in the state. Learn more at and follow us on social media.

State of Nebraska Certifies The Nebraska Medical Center as a Comprehensive Level Trauma Center

The state’s largest hospital becomes its only certified Comprehensive Level center

Less than one month after beginning to offer full-time trauma coverage, The Nebraska Medical Center has earned Comprehensive Level status with the State of Nebraska. State inspectors visited the medical center in July, just before it began offering 24/7 trauma care. Among the medical center’s strengths cited in the report: the development of a full-time pediatric trauma program, close working relationships with local rehabilitation facilities and regional education and outreach programs.

“This certification from the state truly validates the work we’ve been doing in recent years to become the region’s premiere comprehensive trauma center,” said Paul Schenarts, MD, trauma medical director at The Nebraska Medical Center. “The expertise and experience of our fellowship-trained surgeons, subspecialist physicians, nursing care and other health care support from hundreds of our other team members is unparalleled in this region.”

In years past, The Nebraska Medical Center shared its Comprehensive Level status with the Omaha Trauma System which was made up of The Nebraska Medical Center and Creighton University Medical Center (now part of Denver-based CHI Health). Until August 1, each hospital had a set schedule of days when it was the city’s designated trauma center. Since August, each hospital has offered its own independent trauma service.

“We have seen a real increase in the number of trauma patients in the six weeks since we began offering 24/7 care,” said Rosanna Morris, chief operating officer and chief nursing officer of The Nebraska Medical Center. “Fortunately, we were prepared for the increase and welcome these new patients. We truly see it as a reflection of the public’s trust in the extraordinary care our staff provides.”

The Nebraska Medical Center will next seek certification from the American College of Surgeons (ACS), which is only available to hospitals offering full-time trauma care. Medical center leaders plan to begin the application process for ACS certification later this year. The ACS review and inspection process typically takes about one year to complete.

Virus-free, Dr. Sacra leaves med center

by Taylor Wilson, The Nebraska Medical Center

Rick Sacra, M.D.

As UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., put it, Nebraska 1, Ebola 0.

Rick Sacra, M.D., pictured below, the patient who has been treated at The Nebraska Medical Center for the Ebola virus over the past three weeks, has left his room in the Biocontainment Unit and will soon head home. The CDC confirmed that two separate blood samples taken from Dr. Sacra 24 hours apart show the virus is no longer in his bloodstream.

“I am so grateful,” Dr. Sacra said. “Just so incredibly grateful to have gotten through this illness! Many were praying for me, even people I did not know personally. During the time I was here, there was a growing confidence that God was answering those prayers, and that I was steadily improving. Thanks to God and to the team here at The Nebraska Medical Center!”

“It was very gratifying for the entire team that treated Dr. Sacra to see him walk out the doors healthy again,” said Phil Smith, M.D., medical director of the Biocontainment Unit at The Nebraska Medical Center and professor of internal medicine/infectious diseases at UNMC. “When he arrived three weeks ago, he was extremely ill with a virus the world doesn’t have a lot of experience treating. To know that we were able to play a role in helping his body fight off the virus so he could be reunited with his family and continue doing the work he’s so passionate about makes the years we’ve spent training and preparing for something like this more than worth it.”

Dr. Sacra said he also felt fortunate to be in the hands of the team caring for him at The Nebraska Medical Center. “My care team was excellent,” Dr. Sacra said. “They were compassionate, patient and provided an incredibly high level of care.” He said as he started to feel better and was waiting to be allowed to leave the unit, those caring for him did everything they could to keep him entertained. “They brought me books to read, played chess with me and we had conversations about dozens of different topics,” Dr. Sacra said. “My only worry is that I may not recognize them when I am out of the unit, since I only know them by their eyes and their voices!”

The doctors caring for Dr. Sacra say they feel privileged to contribute to the world’s fight against the Ebola virus. “We’ve been in constant contact with the CDC, the World Health Organization and a member of the White House medical staff,” said Angela Hewlett, M.D., associate medical director of the Biocontainment Unit and assistant professor of internal medicine/infectious diseases at UNMC. “We have been sharing everything we’ve learned about caring for Dr. Sacra and we will continue to do so as we have the opportunity to examine all of the data related to his treatment. It is an honor to not only help save our patient’s life, but to potentially save the lives of others fighting this disease around the world.”

Dr. Gold called the Sacras a remarkably courageous family and praised their care team at the med center — the members of the team in the biocontainment unit who put in long hours in a stressful situation, the rest of campus for continuing to perform their duties while helping ease fears of others in the community, and those in the research and clinical areas, a partnership he said “made all the difference.”

Dr. Sacra contracted the Ebola virus while treating patients in West Africa. He works for SIM, an international mission group that responds to areas of need worldwide. “I would like to offer a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to the exceptional doctors, nurses and staff at The Nebraska Medical Center for your caring hearts, keen minds and gifted abilities with Rick and Debbie,” said Bruce Johnson, president, SIM USA. “May God multiply your work, that it will result in the survival of thousands in West Africa who may become infected with Ebola.”

Dr. Sacra became the first patient in The Nebraska Medical Center’s Biocontainment Unit on Sept. 5. Dr. Sacra received a research drug called TKM-Ebola, which inhibits the virus’s ability to replicate. He was also treated with plasma from Ebola survivor Dr. Kent Brantly, along with other supportive care. Doctors say it’s not clear yet if it was a single factor or a combination of all of them that helped Dr. Sacra survive.

“I just want to say thank you to everyone who got me through this,” said Dr. Sacra. “Everyone made me feel so welcome that I am now an official lifetime Huskers fan!”

New cancer screenings available

by John Keenan, UNMC public relations


Jennifer Sanmann, Ph.D., Tanner Hagelstrom, Ph.D., and Amber Carter.

The UNMC Human Genetics Laboratory at the Munroe-Meyer Institute has developed a new set of hereditary cancer tests that can pinpoint genetic mutations that predispose people to certain types of cancer. These tests are now available to providers across campus.

Panels are available to detect familial forms of breast, ovarian, uterine, colorectal, pancreatic, renal, neuroendocrine, and nervous system neoplasms.

“Our laboratory is pleased to offer a service that helps not only with diagnosis but also with treatment management, risk assessment, and familial screening,” said Warren Sanger, Ph.D., laboratory director. “We anticipate that these hereditary cancer tests will be a valuable tool for physicians and their patients at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center.”

Associate laboratory directors Jennifer Sanmann, Ph.D., and Tanner Hagelstrom, Ph.D., led the effort to internally develop and validate these panels for clinical use in close collaboration with the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center.

“We started small, launching a six-gene, high-risk breast cancer panel last November,” Dr. Sanmann said. “With the addition of six new hereditary cancer panels, our services now encompass a wider range of hereditary cancer types.”

The lab has been working closely with Sarah Thayer, M.D., Ph.D., associate director of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, chief of surgical oncology and program leader for cancer services in the clinical enterprise to ensure that physicians in many departments and divisions will find the tests useful.

“Physician input is critical to our laboratory’s test development,” Dr. Sanmann said. “We continually strive to expand our laboratory services in ways that are meaningful for patient care.”

Dr. Thayer praised the collaboration between the Human Genetics Laboratory and the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, saying the newly developed panels will advance insights into people who may have familial cancers.

“Genomic characterization of tumors, as well as patients who get these tumors, is really going to be at the forefront of cancer diagnosis and treatment, and hopefully prevention, as well,” she said.

Licensed and certified genetic counselors are available through the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center’s Hereditary Cancer Clinic to help navigate the complexities of the testing process and to discuss the genetic results with patients. The test can be ordered through the OneChart ordering system, under “genetics” and “hereditary cancer panels.”

For more detailed information about the specifics of each of these hereditary cancer panels, visit the Human Genetics Laboratory website.

Cancer: No Longer a Death Sentence


Chandrakanth Are, MD

The six letter word “cancer” can still hit a serious blow to the mind, heart and soul. Even for someone blessed with enormous fortitude, the diagnosis of cancer can be devastating. But there is good news around. While we may not have found the magic bullet for treating cancer we are definitely better than a few decades ago. The survival of all patients for five years from their initial diagnosis from all types of cancer has increased from 50 percent in the 1970’s to 66 percent in the 1990’s. Similarly, we have also seen a decrease in the death rates from all types of cancer since 1990 in men and since 1991 in women. Compared to the peak rates in 1990 for men and 1991 for women, the cancer death rate for all sites combined in 2006 was 21 percent lower in men and more than 12 percent lower in women.

While the figures on a broad scale look somewhat reassuring, what does it mean to an individual patient? The patient that is seen in the clinic and told that she has colon or rectal cancer that has spread to the liver. Less than three or four decades ago, there really were not that many options to treat these kind of patient other than provide palliative care. We have come a long way from there to current day that many of these patients go on to live beyond not just five years but even ten years. How did this happen? This is due to the combination of improved radiology, better chemotherapy and safe surgery.

The current state-of-the-art radiological tools such as CT scan and MRI tell us exactly the extent of the disease which helps us plan clearly as to who needs an operation and more importantly who does not. While it is important not to deny a patient that needs an operation it is even more important and paramount not to operate on someone that does not need one. For a long time there was only one chemotherapy drug available for treating patients with colon and rectal cancer that has spread to the liver. Within the last 15 years, we have seen an impressive introduction of new drugs that has created a paradigm shift in the management of these types of patients. Lastly, surgery for removing a portion of the liver has also evolved significantly. These procedures were very risky and associated with a very high mortality rate in the 1970’s. We can currently perform these procedures safely with minimal mortality and most of the patients go home to resume normal lives.

These advances do not give us reason to sit on our laurels but they provide us the impetus to go out and tell patients and public that there is more to do. More to do so as to, increase the awareness, that there is a state-of-the-art Cancer Center within the heart of Nebraska that can provide cancer care unparalleled to any other institution in the world. More to do so as to, keep the patients and public educated of the options available to treat cancer. More to do so as to, promote the cutting edge research taking place at the Nebraska Medical Center to find novel treatment options for cancer. Finally, more to do so that we can take care of patients with cancer and heal not only the disease but mind, body and soul. For, cancer these days does not always have to be synonymous with a death sentence.

Neurosurgery Training Program is Part of What Makes the Med Center Special


William Thorell, MD is an associate professor of neurosurgery at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

As surgeons, we’re always gratified to hear from patients who’ve had great recoveries from serious injuries or diseases. Treating those conditions and helping people down the road to recovery are the reasons my colleagues and I became neurosurgeons. And those outcomes are a big part of what makes the med center a special place. But it’s more than a hospital; it’s more than a medical school. It’s where the areas of patient care and education come together that really sets this center apart.

A great example of this is the UNMC Neurosurgery Training Program. A few weeks ago, it wrapped up its 21st year. Lyal Leibrock, MD and Leslie Hellbusch, MD started the program back in 1993 with the goal of developing the neurosurgical expertise available in Omaha and throughout the region. The program’s first resident, John Treves, MD, graduated in 1998 and true to the program’s original goal, Dr. Treves still practices at Midwest Neurosurgery and is a key faculty member for the training program here at the med center.

The quality of the training program has increased over the years. It’s intensive training which lasts six to seven years. As you can imagine, it’s highly sought-after training for residents. They do rotations at The Nebraska Medical Center, the state’s largest hospital, as well as Children’s Hospital and Medical Center and Nebraska Methodist Hospital. Those who are accepted are some of the most bright and talented medical students from their respective schools. The reputation and success of the training program can be traced back directly to the culture set forth 21 years ago by Drs. Leibrock and Hellbusch; and continued on by my colleagues and partners who have continued to lead the program in the years since.

As a proud graduate of the program myself, I’d like to congratulate this year’s residents: Joe Cheatle, MD and Kyle Nelson, MD. Joe and his family will be relocating to South Carolina for practice and Kyle and his family will return to their home state of Minnesota.

Including Dr. Treves, many of the program’s graduates continue to practice neurosurgery in the region. These include: Mark Puccioni, MD, Brad Bowdino, MD, Guy Music, MD, Dan Tomes, MD, Scott Boswell, MD and myself.

The Nebraska Medical Center’s neurology/neurosurgery program was ranked 31st nationally on US News and World Report’s list of America’s Best Hospitals.