Testimonial: Curse or Divine Intervention?
By Eric Munoz MD Apr 22, 2020
On April 10, 2020, I was diagnosed with a Neuroendocrine Tumor of the Pancreas. Two weeks before, I developed a severe dry cough and became short of breath. I have always been active, and even three weeks earlier I was snowshoeing three miles up the mountain four days a week. Suddenly, it was a struggle to walk my dogs.
We thought I had COVID-19, so I was tested and placed on quarantine. My test was negative, so I went back to work but remained short of breath. I started talking to my colleagues at work and my primary care physician, Cory Stirling, M.D. He asked me to see the intensivist, Dena L'Heureux, M.D.
Five minutes after talking with Dr. L'Heureux, I was in the pulmonary lab getting lung function tests. The tests were normal. My colleague, cardiologist Adriane Fluture, M.D., then ordered an echocardiogram of my heart which was also normal. The next day they sent me for a CT scan of my chest to evaluate the shortness of breath. The lungs were normal, but the scan suggested that I could have a blockage or stenosis of my coronary artery. Immediately, Dr. Fluture immediately set me up for a heart cath procedure at Wyoming Medical Center.
Unfortunately the scan also showed that I had a 1.2 cm mass in my pancreas. When I got the call, I went down to hospital and reviewed the scan with our GI doctor, Mark Malone, M.D. Sure enough, there was a mass in the pancreas.
At 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 8, I talked to Raoul Joubran, M.D., a gastroenterologist and good friend. The very next day he set me up for an endoscopic ultrasound guided biopsy of my pancreas with his new partner Chad Cooper, M.D., which revealed that this a neuroendocrine pancreatic tumor. This was an incidental, unexpected finding. The tumor is small and slower growing than the dreaded adenocarcinoma of the pancreas. The bad news is that I will have to have surgery on my pancreas. Fortunately, we caught it very early and there is no spread or invasion into other organs.
On April 10, I had my heart cath and it was totally normal. We still don't know why I am so short of breath, but the good news is that we found the cancer early and there is a great chance for a cure with surgical resection. If I hadn't become so symptomatic without a good explanation, I would never have gotten the CT scan and we would never have known about the cancer until it was too late.
Clearly there was divine intervention at play.
This experience has given me cause for reflection. I chose to share my story with you not to gain your sympathy, but to praise and showcase the outstanding health care providers that make up our incredible health care community at WMC. I am so blessed to have so many great friends and for my family who have been incredibly supportive though all of this. When I found out I had a pancreatic tumor it was almost more than I could handle, thinking that I also had coronary disease. My colleagues and this medical community are amazing, their professionalism and experience helped to alleviate my fears. They bent over backwards to try and figure out what is wrong with me, and by recommending the CT scan they have literally saved my life. I am so thankful for all the nurses and ancillary personnel that have helped me during the last couple of weeks. They are my heros and I am forever grateful and indebted to them.
After so many years being on the physician side of medicine, it has been life changing to see it from the patient’s perspective. I have always cared deeply for my patients, and I have had to deliver news of a scary diagnosis many times. I think, through this experience, that I now have a deeper understanding of how news like this affects them and their families. I have an even greater appreciation now for what patients go through when they are scared and unsure of what comes next. I think it will make me a better caregiver all around. We all tend to take our health for granted. Until something like this happens, and then you find out you’re not as invincible as you think you are.
I know that it was the right decision for me to practice medicine at Wyoming Medical Center. It is truly a special place and I am proud to work with so many awesome people. I am also thankful for my CEO, Michele Chulick, who has been so incredibly supportive through all of this.. I don't have the words to express my gratitude. Everyone in the medical community here has been amazing. I have more than 20 years experience practicing medicine in Casper and Wyoming. I continue to have great confidence in Wyoming Medical Center and the medical providers here. My experience has only reinforced that confidence.
Thank you to everyone for the outpouring of love and concern and for all the prayers. I am sure God's ears were ringing.
Dr. Munoz is a cardiac surgeon at Wyoming Cardiac and Thoracic Surgery in Casper. He is board certified in thoracic surgery. On March 5, 2020, about a month before he was diagnosed, Dr. Munoz was one of two physicians to perform the state's first transcutaneous aortic valve replacement (TAVR) at Wyoming Medical Center. Read about the journey to make it possible here.