Jefferson University Hospitals

Larry Says 'I Can' Fight Liver Cancer with Jefferson's Help

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"Jefferson's great people and even greater optimism have always been there for me"

As a combat pilot, flying missions intended to draw out enemy fire from the jungles of Vietnam, Larry Crawford had faced tough odds before, so the Elkton, Maryland man wasn't thrown off by his diagnosis of liver cancer.

Nor did Larry give up when he was given a prognosis of just six months to live and the prospects of a liver transplant dimmed.

"I am a retired pilot. I flew commercial jets all my life and having flown combat in ‘Nam and being responsible for a lot of people's lives on a daily basis ... my attitude was that I would not succumb to anything," Larry says.

When Larry found Jefferson University Hospitals and its Liver Tumor Center, he immediately felt he'd found kindred spirits.

"That was the first ray of hope that there might be a chance that we could beat this."

From his years in the Air Force and as a commercial pilot, Larry knew the importance of the team approach he saw in Jefferson's multidisciplinary approach to care.

His treatment regimen would be individually crafted by surgeon Cataldo Doria, MD, PhD, FACS, co-director of the Liver Tumor Center and director of Jefferson's Division of Transplantation in close coordination with the Center's experienced team of hepatologists, oncologists and surgeons who specialize in liver disease.

Larry needed a new liver. But his tumor was too big initially to get on the transplant list. Working with Jefferson's multidisciplinary team of liver cancer specialists, Larry underwent two chemoembolizations – a procedure in which the chemotherapy drugs are injected in the artery that supplies blood to the liver tumor.

The treatments shrank the tumor and in December 2008, Larry was put on the transplant waiting list.

During that time he needed to have the fluid that built up in his abdomen drained twice a week. It was a process Larry says was like giving birth to two 20 pound babies a week for months on end.

In February one of his daughters gave birth to her first child, a grandson. She worried Larry would never have a chance to see him grow up if he didn't get a liver.

There were periods of hope – three times Larry got the call to come to Jefferson when a potential liver became available, but each time he was denied.

He grew weaker with every week that passed. Larry didn't give up. Nor did he shy away from the reality of his situation.

"I have spent a major part of my adult life at 40,000 feet and if something goes wrong you cannot pull off to the side of the road," Larry says.

Six months and three potential livers after he was listed for a transplant, Larry got another call from the transplant coordinator at Jefferson.

"Larry, we might have a liver for you," he recalls her telling him. "I said that's great, I might be interested. She said don't eat or drink anything, just get up here."

It was June 8th.

The 15-hour surgery started that night. After the transplant operation, Larry made a quick recovery. He was discharged six days later happy to have a second chance.

"My mind was running rampant with all the things I needed to do."

First and foremost was to talk with other patients about his experience, to give them first-hand experience of being a terminal liver cancer patient.

After a lifetime as a pilot, Larry was used to turbulent flights and that prepared him to some degree for the ups and downs of fighting liver cancer. At Jefferson, he found a team of physicians and other liver specialists who shared the ups and downs of his journey.

For three years, he says, "Jefferson's great people and even greater optimism have always been there for me. As I tell people, there's no one I'd rather have had with me."