Feature Story | 12-Jun-2024

Patient travels thousands of miles for sarcoma care; helps develop program to bring the latest care to Ecuador

Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

COLUMBUS, Ohio – In 2020 during pandemic-caused lockdowns, Andrea Najas, then 17, was trying online exercises from her home in Ecuador. 

“I started to do some workouts and moving a lot more, and I developed this strange, sharp pain above my knee,” said Najas, now 20. “I didn’t think much of it at first, but one afternoon, I couldn’t move my leg at all. That’s when I started to get really concerned.”

After a trip to a physical therapist led to an MRI, Najas received news no teen expects to hear. The diagnosis was osteosarcoma, a rare type of cancer that affects mostly kids and young adults.

With few options at home in Ecuador, Najas and her parents opted to travel thousands of miles to seek lifesaving care from leading sarcoma experts at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

Throughout Najas’ treatment, the destination medicine program at the OSUCCC – James helped arrange travel, appointments and housing to support her and her family as they navigated months-long treatment in an unfamiliar city, thousands of miles from their home.

During her time in Columbus, Najas was under the care of Joel Mayerson, MD, orthopedic oncologist and director of the sarcoma program at OSUCCC – James and a team of specialists.

“The standard treatment for osteosarcoma is about 10 weeks of chemotherapy, and then a surgical procedure where the osteosarcoma and a large part of the bone is removed and then reconstructed,” said Mayerson.

Najas underwent nine rounds of chemotherapy before her surgery in January 2021. After surgery, she had another nine rounds of chemo and physical therapy.

“During Andrea’s care, I was able to take advantage of a newer technique where we load her imaging studies into a 3D printer to custom design personalized cutting guides so we could get the exact location and size of where we wanted to cut her bone to remove all the cancer,” said Mayerson. He then used a cadaver bone to rebuild Najas’ femur bone.

A plan to bring the latest sarcoma care to Ecuador

Eventually, Najas was able to resume life as a young college student. Now cancer-free, Najas and her parents have partnered with Mayerson to start a collaborative board of oncologists in Ecuador with the goal to bring the latest in sarcoma care to the country. The collaborative also includes a fellowship program that trains Ecuadorian physicians in advanced sarcoma care.

The first visiting fellow from Ecuador to train alongside Mayerson is Carlos Cordero, MD, sarcoma surgeon with the Society for the Fight Against Cancer of Ecuador, also known as SOLCA, or the National Cancer Institute equivalent in Ecuador. Cordero has been with the OSUCCC – James since fall 2023 and plans to return to Ecuador in September 2024 armed with knowledge gained from his time with Mayerson and the Ohio State sarcoma team.

“I’m here to train in the latest in sarcoma care and treatment, and to learn everything I can to bring that back to my country so we can build the program in Ecuador,” said Cordero. “It is going to take time and effort. This is the first step in trying to replicate the program that Dr. Mayerson and the team here at Ohio State has built.”

“Ecuador is a small country where we have a lot of potential,” said Cordero. “We have really amazing surgeons and I've been blessed to learn from my boss, but it's totally different here in the United States. The resources here do not compare to anything I have ever seen. And to get to share that knowledge doesn't have a price.”

To learn more about cancer treatment and clinical trials at the OSUCCC – James, visit cancer.osu.edu or call 1-800-293-5066.


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