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University of South Florida

Craven, Challenge and Caring Go Together

Patsy, Robert holding Luna, Diana and Lewis Craven (left to right, top row)
Paige, Margaret and Emily Craven (left to right, bottom row)

A special Southern family, the Craven’s, believe that everything happens for a reason. Inspired by Lew Craven’s mom, Margaret Craven McLaughlin, expressing empathy and putting others first is a family trait.

About three years ago, Lew Craven received the unfortunate news, a biopsy performed was malignant, and he was now facing a diagnosis of oropharynx cancer, cancer of the back of the mouth. In July and August of 2016, Lew received intensive radiation treatments, twice a day for thirty-two days, a total of sixty-four treatments in hopes of curing his cancer.

To help Lew through this challenging time, his granddaughters, Emily and Paige, made a chain of sixty-four paper links with supportive messages to be opened after every treatment. His friends from church and the community joined in and expressed their caring support with cards placed around his home. “I am blessed to have a strong family and social network that has sustained me in my struggles of life,” Craven said.

After radiation treatment, Lew was referred for follow up care with USF Health’s Head and Neck surgical oncologist, Dr. Tapan Padhya. Initially, he remained cancer-free for ten months, but then Lew developed a worsening pain in the back of his throat. At first, he thought it was due to recent dental work.

However, follow up with his team at USF Health lead to a repeat biopsy confirming the cancer was back, now more aggressive. Lew faced the prospect of an extensive surgical procedure with an estimated survival rate of between 30%-50% at five years. Also, given the location of the cancerous tumor at the intersection of his tongue and voice box, the surgery would require the removal of both structures.

Jennifer Larsson, Speech Language Pathologist at TGH, Lewis Craven, Ellen Eckelman, Physical Therapist at TGH and Dr. Matthew Mifsud, USF Health Head and Neck Oncologist and Reconstructive Surgeon (left to right)

Lew took some time to consider his options and even sought a second opinion at a major academic medical center in Boston, where his son was currently living. On November 6, 2017, to save Lew’s life from the advanced cancer, USF Health’s Drs. Matthew Mifsud and Tapan Padhya performed a complex, two-part surgical procedure.

The first part of the surgery was performed by Dr. Padhya, who removed the cancerous tumor, voice box and tongue – a total laryngectomy and a total glossectomy. USF Health Head and Neck reconstructive surgeon Dr. Mifsud then surgically transplanted a free flap from Lew’s thigh to rebuild the back of his throat.

“The use of two surgical teams for complex head and neck surgery allows each surgeon to focus on their aspect of the procedure, decreasing operative time, which may have taken 10-14 hours in the past, now can often be completed within 6-9 hours. This two-part procedure can dramatically enhance a patient’s recovery and limit complications,” Dr. Mifsud said.

Despite a successful life-saving surgery, this extensive procedure caused Lew to lose the ability to speak and eat without assistance. “I trust Dr. Padhya’s knowledge and professionalism. He provided both clear and compassionate truth, before my surgery,” Craven said.

“As I face challenges in my life, I see them as opportunities to learn more about myself,” Craven said. “ I encourage people facing a challenge to stay in the present; this is where your power lies. If you can do this, you will remain true to yourself no matter what life throws at you. We all need each other, and we can benefit from the lessons learned by others.”

The USF Health + Tampa General Hospital (TGH) Multidisciplinary Team

Lew’s day-to-day life changed, but not as dramatically as you might think. Before surgery, Dr. Mifsud prepared Lew and Patsy, his wife of fifty-five years, that Lew would probably not be able to eat in public. Remarkably only six months after surgery, the Craven’s began to enjoy their social life.

“We go out to dinner with our friends. We play cards,” Patsy said. “We want to help people going through this. We thought it would be the end of the world, and it really hasn’t been. Lew’s strong recovery was due to his determination, a strong support system, and a dedicated team of health care providers at USF Health and Tampa General Hospital (TGH).

Lew’s surgical care and post-operative support are coordinated by a multidisciplinary team, unique to an academic medical center, using the combined resources from USF Health and TGH. The team includes a variety of health care professionals such as surgeons, speech language pathologists, and physical therapists, all devoted to providing the highly specialized care needed by head and neck cancer patients.

Lew embraced moving forward in a new way with USF Health and TGH’s outpatient care and the support of his family.

Read the next blog in this USF Health two-part blog series The Road Back – Care Providers and Family Team-Up.

To make an appointment with USF Health’s Otolaryngology department, please call (813) 974-4683.

Photos By: Allison Long, USF Health Communications and Marketing

Written By: Kathleen Rogers

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