Cincinnati--Eugene Blair Conrad, Director of the Dayton
International Airport faced a history-making challenge when he became
the second person in the world to receive a new combination treatment
for a rare cancer (called a chordoma) that was wedged between the third
and fourth vertebrae in the neck.
Conrad, who directs the
operations that keep the Dayton Airport open and running every day (no
small task in today's environment), came to University of Cincinnati
(UC) physicians for a new treatment for the rare tumor attached to his
cervical spine. After researching a similar treatment available in
Massachusetts and California, Conrad chose the Barrett Cancer Center's
treatment with neurosurgery, followed by a three-dimensional
radiotherapy called stereotactic Intensity Modulated Radio Therapy
(IMRT), a component of the LEXAR system that performs radiation
treatments in the head, neck and upper trunk areas of the body. During
stereotactic IMRT treatment, a concentrated beam of radiation,
computer-programmed to conform to the exact shape of the tumor,
radiates it from a specially designed high-precision linear accelerator
called the LEXAR system.
Just before Thanksgiving Day in 2000,
Conrad had neurosurgery. Two months later he began the IMRT treatments.
Through computer programming, IMRT memorizes the tumor shape and
conforms the beams of the radiation treatment to the jagged edges of
the tumor. Stereotactic IMRT targets so precisely, it kills cancer
cells attached to the spinal bones without damaging the vulnerable
Harry Van Loveren, MD, UC professor of neurosurgery
and director of skull base surgery at the Mayfield Clinic and Spine
Institute in Cincinnati, removed the deteriorated parts of the two
vertebrae. Van Loveren then rebuilt the vertebrae with a titanium
(space age metal) cage and chips of bone from Conrad's hip. After the
surgery, Conrad went home and cooked Thanksgiving dinner for his family.
the holidays passed and Conrad healed, John Breneman, MD, professor of
radiation oncology at UC, programmed the LEXAR equipment to target what
remained of the tumor that lay intertwined around the bones in his neck
with the IMRT radiotherapy. Remnants of the tumor (that still grasped
the two vertebrae in Conrad's spine) were first targeted for a
concentrated beam of radiation to kill the tumor cells, without
damaging the spinal cord. Breneman then programmed the powerful doses
of radiation to kill the remaining tumor cells so that it wouldn't grow
Without IMRT, 50 percent of chordoma tumors recur. Chordoma
tumors are thought to be caused by leftover fetal spine tissue that was
not properly reabsorbed. "It can sometimes remain in your body for half
a century and start growing when you are 50 to 70 years-old," Breneman
According to Breneman, location of the tumor was critical.
Damage to the spinal nerve at the neck level could turn a healthy man
into a paraplegic or worse.
The support team at The University
Hospital Barrett Cancer Center where Breneman performs the IMRT
treatments, came to know Conrad very well over the next three months.
Monday through Friday, it took Breneman's team only about an hour to
prepare Conrad, target the tumor precisely, and treat it with 20
minutes of a powerful beam of radiation. After the initial treatment
each day, Conrad rested for four hours. Then they blasted the cancer
with a second dose of radiation. Day after day, after each set of
morning treatments in Cincinnati, he went to the Dayton International
Airport and worked a full day.
Before the initial surgery, when
Conrad had found that he would be the first person in the Western and
Northern hemispheres to be treated with the stereotactic LEXAR IMRT
radiotherapy, he went for a second opinion. According to the Cleveland
Clinic doctors Conrad consulted, Conrad was lucky because neck
chordomas are easier to detect early and surgically remove than those
located elsewhere on the spine. Even better, according to the
physician, the special IMRT radiation treatment was approved for use on
humans and "nobody did it better than the UC doctors." Eight weeks and
70 radiation treatments later, Conrad was pronounced cancer-free.
March 14, 2002, Conrad celebrates the first anniversary of his last
treatment. February 14 he celebrates his first Valentine's Day with his
new wife. An ordinary person with extraordinary courage, Conrad is a
survivor and is greatly admired by his health-team friends at UC
Medical Center. Breneman and Van Loveren are both members of the UC
College of Medicine faculty and The Neuroscience Institute for brain
and nervous system diseases.
Conrad more recently survived a
serious car accident on the way back from an airport business meeting
in another state. The car accident required an immediate hip-repair
surgery which kept him hospitalized out-of-state for 10 days. Still a
goal-oriented survivor, Conrad returned home at last to marry his
sweetheart. He was recently present at his grown son's wedding as well.