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Cancer

Clinical trials allow brain tumor patient precious time with his daughter

Chris Amundsen, a 38-year-old mechanical engineer from the Long Island town of Commack, was having breakfast with his fiancé, Laura, on Mother’s Day when he had a grand mal seizure. It was the day everything changed.

Chris was rushed to the hospital, where he was told he had an inoperable brain tumor — and only three to six months to live.

Finding hope in a clinical trial

Laura and Chris walked up to the hospital chapel and got married. “As we exchanged our vows, we also vowed to fight for my life,” says Chris.

Laura’s cousin, who worked at Lenox Hill Hospital, told Chris and Laura to call John Boockvar, MD, director of the hospital’s Brain Tumor and Pituitary/Neuroendocrine Center.

“Dr. Boockvar offered me an alternate solution,” says Chris, “and something better — hope.”

Dr. Boockvar enrolled Chris in a groundbreaking clinical trial that delivered the drug “at the doorstep of the tumor” via the arteries that were feeding his tumor rather than through his veins.

Fighting on for his family

After treatment was complete, Chris went three years without the tumor coming back. “In that time, Laura and I had our dream wedding,” says Chris. “We bought our dream home. And we had our beautiful baby girl, Sarah Rose.”

Three years later, when Chris’s tumor came back, Dr. Boockvar had another option — a new trial, this time with a different targeted drug therapy — Cetuximab.

quotation mark Dr. Boockvar offered me an alternate solution, and something better — hope.
Chris Amundsen

The drug had been used against glioblastoma before but had only been marginally successful. Cetuximab couldn’t penetrate the blood-brain barrier, a network of blood vessels that blocks foreign substances from entering the brain. By administering the drug to Chris intra-arterially, it traveled directly to his tumor, avoiding the barrier. This experimental delivery method also allowed Chris to receive much higher doses of the medicine, which blocks receptors that stimulate tumor growth.

Chris’s tumor shrank again.

“This wasn’t going to beat us. I was fighting to stay in Sarah’s life,” Chris says. “The textbooks say that I shouldn’t be alive, but now we are celebrating Mother’s Day — and Father’s Day — as a family.”

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