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Matthew Cartisser – Four Years Stronger

14-year-old, Matthew Cartisser.

14-year-old, Matthew Cartisser.

The ability to open our mouths is an absolute necessity when we eat, speak or express our feelings to those around us. Now, imagine for a moment that you could not open your mouth wide enough to do any of those things. That’s what every day was like for Matthew Cartisser. Four years ago, we highlighted Matthew’s journey from being diagnosed with an aggressive tumor as an infant through years of treatment including chemotherapy and 18 surgical procedures, which resulted in extensive scar tissue. This triggered a complication called “trismus,” which rendered him unable to open his mouth.

In an effort to help Matthew regain this function, the team of surgeons at THANC tried a novel approach of utilizing a free tissue transfer including adipose tissue and skin, supplied by an artery and vein. After the scar tissue in Matthew’s mouth was removed, this tissue was brought in to help prevent new scars from forming. Free flaps are typically performed to reconstruct the area where a tumor was removed. In Matthew’s case, this procedure was experimental in that it had never been performed to prevent scar tissue from reforming and in particular, to overcome trismus. At the time of our last report, four years ago, Matthew’s trismus had been eliminated for almost a year and he was able to chew a gumball for the first time in his life at age 10. While that may not seem very important to most of us, this was a monumental accomplishment for this young boy.

Throughout his treatment and the journey to recovery, Matthew has always maintained a positive and upbeat attitude and commended the THANC team of surgeons for having courage and taking risks to help him—in his words, “Never, never, never give up… there is always another way to do stuff.” Four years later, Matthew continues to make progress and regain motion and mobility in his jaw. He has taken his wish to help and inspire others to a whole new level by being an honored guest speaker at grand rounds at Massachusetts General Hospital. During his lecture to doctors, nurses, social workers and patients in the midst of their own personal cancer journeys, Matthew talked about ways in which the caregivers could have eased his difficulties through prolonged treatment. Most of his recommendations were centered around communicating more directly. At one point he suggested, “Don’t ask my parents to hold me down, it’s confusing and scary… and please, use my name when you can.” He also suggested that potential outcomes, both positive and negative be explained to the patient and the family: “Please tell me and my parents what long-term disabilities and learning challenges I may have as a result of prolonged sedation and chemotherapy, so they know what to look for and how to help me.” Matthew’s speech was very moving. He had the audience crying, laughing and very engaged. If you are interested follow this link to watch his talk.

As part of THANC’s mission to educate and inform other doctors, Matthew’s surgical outcome was published in a medical journal so that other surgeons around the world could see the success of this novel approach in overcoming a challenging case of trismus. Our goal is to find creative solutions to challenging problems so that head and neck cancer patients both in New York and around the globe can experience an improved quality of life. We do this through dissemination of that information to those who can put it to good use helping other patients who suffer from similar diseases and complications.

If you would like to hear Matthew speak from the heart about his personal cancer journey join us at the THANC Foundation Golf Outing. We would be delighted to introduce you to this engaging and charismatic 14-year-old on Monday, September 26, 2016 at the Scarsdale Golf Club.

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