Patients plead for cancer expert to be rehired

An open letter by a woman pleading for expert cancer care for her seriously ill husband has been sent to Health Minister, Simon Harris.

“All I want to know is that my husband, Gino, is getting the best care possible, ” said Kelli Appezzato yesterday.

Gino Appezzato underwent complex surgery at St Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin to remove a tumour four weeks ago.

He has been under the care of an oncologist, Dr Alexia Bertuzzi, but Kelli Appezzato is concerned that the consultant’s contract will not be renewed when it expires next week.

“Dr Bertuzzi has been the go-to consultant for patients with sarcoma — a rare cancer that affects around 250 people in Ireland annually,” said Ms Appezzato.

Consultant oncologist at the hospital, Prof John Crown, left a brief message of support in response to Kelli’s email yesterday.

The former senator wrote: “For the record, I strongly support the renewal of Dr Bertuzzi’s contract. This was an unwise decision.”

Gino and Kelli, who are from Australia, have four children. They came to Ireland 16 years ago, and had been happily living in Kilkenny until their lives were upended earlier this year.

Mr Appezzato was diagnosed with sarcoma in January — the malignant tumour growing in connective tissue was found the day after his 44th birthday.

“One night we were out celebrating his birthday with our four kids, and the next day were in absolute shock after being told there was something in his abdomen that shouldn’t be there.

“He was a self-employed electrician for over 12 years, and the business closed overnight when he became ill.”

When Mr Appezzato first met Dr Bertuzzi, the pain caused by the tumour was so bad he could not walk, feed or clean himself. The consultant arranged a course of chemotherapy for Mr Appezzato that shrank the tumour enough to allow a surgeon to operate on his abdomen.

Having spent more than 10 hours in surgery, and five days in an induced coma, he was discharged from a hospital last weekend and was home in time to celebrate Father’s Day with his children.

Even though his tumour was removed, the cancer may return so he will have to be carefully monitored.

A spokesperson for the hospital responded: “Patients’ ongoing care and management will be undertaken by the multidisciplinary team in St Vincent’s University Hospital, which has all the relevant specialities including surgery, medical oncology, radiation oncology, radiology, and pathology for the care of patients with sarcoma and other cancers.”

Mr Appezzato is one of several sarcoma patients under the care of St Vincent’s University Hospital who have expressed a wish that Dr Bertuzzi would remain in her position in the hospital. They set up an online petition this week and it has already received around 6,000 signatures. Their petition on www.change.org reads: “We as a group of sarcoma patients, under the care of St Vincent’s University Hospital, are pleading with you to please take a moment to sign our petition, requesting that sarcoma services are maintained to the high level that is currently being achieved.”

Ms Appezzato said her husband was doing as well as expected considering what he had been through: “He is fighting a battle against cancer, but he is not well enough to fight for the best of care. That is why I am fighting on his behalf.”


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