A Gentle Nature
How a Doctor's Care Earned a Patient's Trust
Little brings Joanne Walsh as much joy as exercise. Once an avid aerobics instructor, Walsh loved to connect with others through socialization and physical movement. Then, after years of teaching as many as four classes per day, she began having trouble controlling her motor skills.
This worried Walsh, whose symptoms began to worsen. Unfortunately, upon a deeper look at what was causing her discomfort, doctors found that she had a brain tumor called glioblastoma.
After having had surgery, Walsh sought care at UVA, where she met Dr. Camilo Fadul, a professor in the Department of Neurology who specializes in brain cancer. She was attracted to a clinical trial being conducted by Fadul that was potentially promising for her condition. In fact, she was the trial’s first participant.
“This was a clinical trial to study how to harness the immune system to recognize and attack the brain tumor cells using immunotherapy developed here at UVA,” said Fadul. “Through this trial we made new discoveries about recruiting and arming the immune cells to optimize their therapeutic capacity.”
Additionally, Fadul praised Walsh’s bravery for enrolling in a clinical trial that was in part testing how well the immunotherapy would be tolerated. What’s more, he said the trial’s findings will have real and significant implications for the future of UVA’s brain cancer research because it will serve as the foundation for a larger, multi-institutional study to determine its efficacy.
In recent years, UVA Cancer Center has seen a more than 112% increase in its clinical trial program—an important development, as clinical trials give patients access to the latest medical breakthroughs.
Today Walsh credits Fadul for adding years to her life.
“I was a little scared and anxious to participate in the trial, but Dr. Fadul’s expertise, assuredness, and gentle nature gave me such great confidence,” Walsh said. “I don’t trust many doctors, but I do whatever he says.”
According to Fadul, Walsh has a very good understanding of the science behind the research, and her commitment is reflected by her participation in the study.
“We don’t yet have a cure for this type of tumor,” said Fadul, “so the only way we’re going to improve outcomes and hopefully find a cure is to understand the biology that will inform meaningful clinical research.”
Walsh was so moved by the care she received at UVA that she recently made a bequest to support future immunotherapy research into brain cancer. She hopes that her gift helps gain visibility for UVA’s brain cancer research program. Dr. Fadul says that her generosity will help fuel the discovery of innovative and potentially more effective treatments for this aggressive cancer.
“I’m thinking of the next person or family who has to deal with this situation,” said Walsh. “Even if the impact of this gift only helps one person know where to go for great care, that’s enough for me.”
UVA Health is home to a robust network of neuro-oncology researchers. Dr. Benjamin Purow has identified a protein that may act as a master switch, preventing cancer cell growth. Similarly, Dr. Jason Sheehan’s innovative use of focused ultrasound shows great promise for treating glioblastoma—an aggressive form of brain cancer. Meanwhile, Hui Li’s discovery of the very gene that causes glioblastoma was recently named one of the most important biomedical discoveries of the year by STAT News. These investigators, among many others, bring hope to UVA patients every day.