Flight of Hope - A Doctor's Fight for His Right to Personalised Medicine

Author(s): Mark Awerbuch

Biography & Memoir

Adelaide doctor Mark Awerbuch is at the gym, doing his standard 30 minutes on the rowing machine, when he notices something wrong: early fatigue and an unusual tightness in his chest. He phones a cardiologist after breakfast, and is sent immediately to hospital. The results show no cardiac problem; only mild anaemia. After a second strangely fatiguing episode at the gym, he calls in favours from medical colleagues. Within a month, on 27 February 2014, he’s diagnosed with acute T-cell lymphoblastic leukaemia. A week later, he’s in hospital beginning high-intensity chemotherapy. In his medical memoir Flight of Hope, Awerbuch tells the story of his diagnosis, treatment and flight across the world for a life-saving transplant in Israel, denied to him in Australia. ‘You have to decide how you want to die’ After being rejected as a transplant candidate by the Royal Adelaide Hospital, followed by Royal Melbourne Hospital and Royal Brisbane Hospital, his treating bone-marrow haematologist tells him, ‘Mark, you have to decide how you want to die.’ The reasons provided for his rejection are that acute T-cell lymphoblastic leukaemia, especially in a person over 65 years and with his particular genetic mutation, is associated with a very poor prognosis, in addition to which he is diagnosed with invasive fungal lung disease – which he disputes – and compromised kidney function, the result of treatment with Ambisome for the putative fungal lung disease. By now, Awerbuch has long since closed his medical practice as a rheumatologist. Five blocks of chemotherapy have done little to halt the progress of his cancer. He’s tried an expensive experimental drug, ponatinib, which failed, and his kidneys have been damaged by the treatment for a fungal lung disease he disputes having (medical professionals in Israel will later confirm Awerbuch’s belief). A chance encounter leads to a life-saving overseas transplant The treatment that saved Awerbuch’s life stemmed from a friend’s skiing holidaying in Aspen, where he encountered the director of an Israeli biotech company who mentioned a medical colleague with a reputation as a cutting-edge transplant haematologist. The cutting-edge haematologist was unavailable, but referred Awerbuch for treatment to Professor Reuven Or, Director of the Department of Bone Marrow Transplantation at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, who agreed to perform the life-saving transplant denied in Australia. The cost? $US340,000 (or A$360,000). Awerbuch’s younger sister, Janice, ‘didn’t hesitate’ to agree to donate her bone-marrow to save her brother, flying from South Africa to Israel, where her stem cells were extracted by needle from her hip bone. 'Why was this necessary?' ‘I have not lost sight of my good fortune in being able to lay my hands on the necessary funds when it really mattered; an opportunity that I fully appreciate is not available to everybody,’ says Awerbuch now. ‘But the pertinent question really is, why was this necessary?’ The haploidentical bone marrow transplant he received at Hassadah is, he says, in no way outside the square or experimental: it’s a treatment program used worldwide, including in Sydney by Westmead and St Vincent’s Hospital. Recently, Royal Adelaide Hospital has also started its own haplioidentical bone-marrow transplantation in adults with acute leukaemia. Awerbuch’s leukaemia went into complete remission from his leukaemia as a result of his treatment. Cancer is not a 'fight' – outcomes depend on type of cancer and treatment ‘Words like “fighting”, “battling”, “conquering” and “beating” cancer are unhelpful to cancer patients, even if the words are used in good faith by family and friends to mean something positive,’ he concludes. ‘The outcome of the illness will ultimately depend on the type of cancer and the success of the treatment, garnished with a large dollop of luck, not going toe-to-toe on some metaphorical battleground.’


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General Fields

  • : 9781743056677
  • : Wakefield Press Pty, Limited
  • : Wakefield Press
  • : June 2019
  • : ---length:- '21'width:- '14'units:- Centimeters
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : 240
  • : Paperback
  • : Mark Awerbuch