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University of South Florida

The Road Back – Care Providers and Family Team Up

Jennifer Larsson, Speech Language Pathologist (TGH), Lewis Craven and Ellen Eckelman, Physical Therapist (TGH) at USF Health’s South Tampa Center.

If you would like to start at the beginning of Lew Craven’s inspiring story, go to Craven, Challenge and Caring Go Together.

“Lew has so much to live for, a loving, supportive family, a purpose in life and such a motivated attitude,” USF Health Head and Neck Oncologist and Reconstructive Surgeon, Dr. Matthew Mifsud said. “When cancer patients are recovering from a complex head and neck surgery, these factors can greatly define their path forward.”

After his extensive surgery, Lew Craven will always need specialized care to continue his favorite activities and maintain a high quality of life.  USF Health, with its close relationship with Tampa General Hospital (TGH), provides a depth of integrated and comprehensive patient care for complex diseases such as cancer, as well as access to a broad array of medical specialists as Tampa Bay’s only academic medical center.

Matthew Mifsud, MD, checks on Lewis Craven at USF Health’s South Tampa Center.

The USF Health and TGH multidisciplinary team developed a rehabilitation program for Lew’s recovery, starting with Heather Bruno, a speech-language pathologist at TGH, immediately after surgery. She helped Lew with both the emotional and physical responses to the surgical removal of both his voice box and tongue.

Bruno shared that Lew was so positive and wanted to get “right to work, quickly adopting to communication with his iPad.” Bruno taught Lew all about life after a laryngectomy procedure, as he would now breathe through a stoma in his neck, which requires regular care.

After his initial hospital recovery, team members began to work closely with Lew as an outpatient. The first step was to help Lew regain swallowing function. Jennifer Larsson, a speech language pathologist at TGH, taught Lew postural compensations, a variety of ways to make eating easier and effective to gain adequate nutrition.

Lew’s wife, Patsy, continuously helped Lew practice eating and swallowing skills between appointments at TGH, which were initially twice a week. With Larsson’s coaching, Lew slowly increased his ability to eat and swallow, eventually making him comfortable to eat even in social settings.  “It’s awesome that Lew is able to return to his life and enjoy eating out with friends and family,” Larsson said.

Ellen Eckelman, a physical therapist at TGH, works closely with Larsson. She focuses on a problem called fibrosis, which is essentially scar formation affecting the neck, jaw, and facial tissues. This condition is an effect of the extensive treatment Lew required to treat his cancer. To mitigate this condition, known as trismus or lockjaw, Eckelman introduced a device called a TheraBite, which helps stretch and increase the mobility of Lew’s jaw.

Lew has continued to thrive after surgery with no evidence of cancer recurrence, which means his current outlook and likelihood of being cured is excellent. Most patients with head and neck cancer who have a cancer recurrence, it’s typically within two years of treatment.

Lew’s Life Today

“Lew has a tremendous will to live despite his disability. His cancer has impacted his life, but he has been able to create a new normal way of living and enjoying life, despite the limitations he faces,” Dr. Mifsud said.

Patsy credits their amazing son, Robert Craven, for tapping into technology-based communications tools such as text to talk apps and Skype to help support Lew’s transition after his surgery. Free text to talk apps provide Lew with the ability to share in conversations with his close-knit family, friends and colleagues. The Talk to Me app allowed Lew to choose a Southern accent to reflect his upbringing in North Carolina. Two other apps can enable patients to use their voice, Text to Speech, and VocaliD.  Patients can sign up and record a voicebank prior to losing their voice for a fee.

In addition to text to talk apps, Lew uses Skype for his weekly calls to his son, Robert, his daughter-in-law, Diana, and his two granddaughters, Emily and Paige, who just recently relocated to the state of Florida from New Hampshire. They share the family news, which includes his oldest granddaughter, Emily, going off to Clemson and Robert’s new startup. Robert likes Skype’s new feature that displays text across the screen as Lew speaks versus having to look at the text box. “I don’t have to look away. I feel more connected to my dad,” Robert said.

Lew is back to providing mental health counseling and mentoring students in Hillsborough Community College’s (HCC) Counseling and Human Services Program with the use of adaptive technology. For fifteen years, Lew taught the Issues of Aging and Behavior Modification classes at Hillsborough Community College (HCC), and today, he continues to help students develop both personally and professionally in counseling, coaching them on helping people in crisis.

“Lew is one of the most genuine, emphatic, caring people I know. He balances holding our students to high standards of performance but is very supportive and caring. He is one of a kind,” Dr. William Day, Ph.D., LMHC, HS-BCP, chair of HHC’s Counseling & Human Services Program said.

“His perseverance and endurance. You have to have it. It takes a special person to push through something (cancer treatment and surgery) like this because it’s hard. He’s an inspiration to everyone,” his wife, Patsy said.

To start at the beginning of Lew’s story, go to the first blog Craven, Challenge, and Caring Go Together.

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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