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Richard Barfield

“Dr. Karakla is an artist. You would never know I had a radical tonsillectomy because of his precision as a surgeon, coupled with the robotic surgery I received. I had a very speedy recovery with little to no scarring.”

Richard Barfield, Head and Neck Cancer Survivor | Sentara Healthcare

Listen to your body. 
As a longtime congregational singer at his church, Richard Barfield knew there was something wrong when he began feeling strained while singing. “My throat and neck felt swollen.  It was painful to sing. I knew something was not right,” says Richard.

Richard was just 63 years old when he first started feeling pain in his neck. After seeing a few different Primary Care Physicians, one recommended that he see Dr. Karakla through the Sentara Cancer Network for additional testing. After various CT scans and PET scans, Richard was diagnosed with oropharynx cancer. The cancer was located behind his tonsil and was approximately the size of a dime.

“Dr. Karakla informed me that I would need a radical tonsillectomy,” says Richard. Shortly thereafter, he underwent TransOral Robotic Surgery (TORS) through the use of the daVinci robotic surgery system by Dr. Karakla, otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon with Eastern Virginia Medical School at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. The daVinci robotic surgery system is just one of the many advanced technologies available through the Sentara Cancer Network.

“When I was admitted to Sentara Norfolk General for the surgery, it was my first time as a patient in a hospital,” he says. “Naturally, I was very nervous, but I was confident in Dr. Karakla and I knew what to expect going into surgery.”

Barfield also credits the support he received from the Sentara Cancer Networks’ team of physicians, cancer specialists, and other healthcare professionals who contributed to his overall positive patient experience.

Although the cancer was very small and located on the right side of his neck, Dr. Karakla recommended Richard receive additional radiation therapy. “He let me know that often times if cancer is found on one side of the neck, it is likely to occur on the other. Fortunately for me, that was not the case.”

Prior to surgery, the entire team of head and neck cancer specialists worked together, to develop the appropriate treatment and care plan specifically for, Richard. In fact, 100 percent of head and neck cancer cases are reviewed at weekly cancer conferences within the Sentara Cancer Network – the only regional referral center in Hampton Roads. This multidisciplinary team and collaboration of experts, reviewed Richard’s scans, x-rays, and medical history which contributed to his high-level of quality care.

“Post-surgery, I was very impressed with the results. Dr. Karakla had to make two incisions, one from the back of the right ear all the way to the center of my neck, and the other from the ear almost to my shoulder. If you were to look at me, you’d never know,” he says. “The robotic surgery was so precise and my recovery was much quicker than expected.”  Richard’s recommended care plan was a success.

Not unlike most types of cancers, there was no definitive reason as to why or how Richard developed oral cavity cancer. However, Richard believes it may have been due to the fact that he was around a lot of second hand and even third hand smoke growing up.

“Everyone smoked back then,” he says. Heavy tobacco and alcohol use are the most important risk factors for this head and neck cancer. “I would tell anyone, quit now!”

Barfield is now 65 and retired in the Chesapeake area, but most importantly, he is a proud grandfather to three young grandchildren.

“I will be forever grateful to Dr. Karakla and the Sentara Cancer Network for giving me more time with my grandchildren,” he says. “My family will be forever grateful too.”

The Sentara Cancer Network has a proven track record of quality, advanced care – Mr. Barfield is just one successful example. It is one of the largest in the nation, and is the only accredited cancer network in Virginia, a distinction from the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer, which means we are held to the highest standards in delivering cancer care to our community. The Sentara Cancer Network was re-accredited in 2012 and was one of four Networks- Level accredited programs to earn the Outstanding Achievement Award from the American College Of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer.


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