March 8, 2019

From Rocky Road to Baby Bump

UAMS patient undergoes successful colon cancer treatment before delivering a healthy baby girl

OB/GYN physician Dr. Paul Wendel with UAMS patient Catherine Wood Burton and her baby, McKenzie

Dr. Issam Makhoul of the UAMS Cancer Institute

Dr. Issam Makhoul of the UAMS Cancer Institute

If you saw Catherine Wood Burton jogging the trails of Allsopp Park in Little Rock, you would have thought she was the picture of perfect health. But Catherine’s journey from near death to new life began with an appendectomy that led to a cancer diagnosis and ended with the birth of a healthy baby girl.

When Catherine awoke one morning with pain in her abdomen, she trusted her instincts and went to the UAMS emergency room. After surgery to remove her appendix, a routine medical test revealed that her appendix was infiltrated with a cancerous tumor. An additional surgery was performed to remove part of her colon, and she was then diagnosed with stage II colon cancer. Catherine was advised that if she had not been diagnosed, she would have been dead within two years.

Since Catherine had two different types of cancer, she needed to undergo chemotherapy. Catherine and her husband, Jeffrey Burton, wanted to have a child and were concerned about the affect of her cancer treatment on her ability to conceive a child. Her oncologist, Issam Makhoul, M.D., had not encountered a similar situation because most women diagnosed with colon cancer are past their childbearing years.

Dr. Makhoul created an individualized treatment plan for Catherine to preserve her fertility. Chemotherapy targets dividing cells, so Dr. Makhoul used medications to put Catherine’s ovaries to sleep. While there were no guarantees, Catherine and the staff at UAMS hoped that her ovaries would be protected from the cancer treatment.

At the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Dr. Makhoul conducts clinical research and treats patients. “I don’t want my patients to wear the ‘cancer’ label. It’s not enough for me to treat the disease of cancer only from a medical standpoint. I want to heal the person so that they are empowered to regain control and reconnect with their life,” he said. “I don’t want my patients to live in fear. If we have helped patients to reestablish normalcy so that they can enjoy the important as well as trivial things in life, then we have achieved a lot.”

Two years later, Catherine and her husband were thrilled to learn that she was pregnant. Because Catherine had some complications with a previous pregnancy and due to her cancer treatment, her pregnancy was treated by Paul Wendel, M.D. through the UAMS high-risk pregnancy program.

“With board-certified maternal-fetal medicine physicians along with state-of-the-art equipment and technology, I believe UAMS offers the best in medical care for patients who have high-risk pregnancies,” said Dr. Wendel.

Catherine and her family welcomed McKenzie June Burton, a happy and healthy baby girl who was born at UAMS. While the road to bring McKenzie into the world was full of bumps along the way, Catherine is very grateful to all of the UAMS staff members who worked to restore her health and made the birth of her daughter possible.

Looking at the photo of Catherine and McKenzie, Dr. Makhoul smiles. “The assignment that I give to my patients, if they want to reward me in any way, is to go and be happy and live a long life. Knowing that Catherine and her baby are thriving is a gift to me.”