From tooth pain to cancer-free
In June 2010, during a regular dental exam, Larry Staunton’s dentist noticed swelling and gum tissue pulled away from an infected tooth.
His dentist referred him to an oral surgeon who extracted the infected tooth and had it tested. The results came back as left mandible alveolar squamous cell carcinoma.
Larry was referred to Dr. Karakla, otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon with Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, for additional cancer CT scans and PET scans. The Sentara Cancer Network team of cancer specialists reviewed all of Larry’s scans, X-rays and medical history at their weekly cancer conference meeting and concluded that the cancer had not spread.
On October 6, 2010, Dr. Karakla removed approximately two thirds of Larry’s jaw and 12 teeth to resect the cancer. Next, Dr. Bak, an EVMS otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon, removed part of Larry’s fibula bone and reconstructed a new jawbone at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.
“The surgeons did a great job. My friends and family were shocked at how good I looked, especially so soon out of surgery,” says Larry.
On the road to recovery
In mid-October, once he was out of surgery and ICU, Larry was transferred up to the ninth floor for physical therapy and speech pathology. He was scheduled for three hours of physical therapy and one hour of speech language therapy a day.
“I couldn’t wait to exercise and get moving,” he says.
Larry credits his care plan team with helping him transition from a wheelchair to a walker and then from a cane to just his own feet.
The physical therapy team improved his ability to move and function slowly but steadily.
“My physical therapy activities included sitting with weights on my legs and lifting, walking along a balance beam with handrails, walking and picking up cones, riding the stationary bike, and stair climbers,” Larry says. “I was always well-informed. There was never any gap in coverage; the team worked together like clockwork.”