Juan Cueto did not feel sick, but he was losing weight rapidly and was devastated with the knowledge that he had two life threatening diseases, cancer and a liver disease.
Doctors in another state told him there was no treatment; only a liver transplant would cure him of the primary sclerosing cholangitis he was diagnosed with in 2012. He was told this liver disease could lead to bile duct cancer – and it did.
“It was very frustrating. I felt like, ‘How long do I have?’ You start thinking about your kids, your future. Your life is going down,” said Mr. Cueto, a 46-year-old electrical engineer who lives in Frisco.
Mr. Cueto’s prospects changed dramatically when he moved to Texas in 2016 and found a team of specialists at UT Southwestern who could address both issues in one surgery.
Dr. Parsia Vagefi brought the new surgical protocol for bile duct cancer and liver disease when he came to UT Southwestern in 2018 as Associate Professor of Surgery and the Ernest Poulos, M.D. Distinguished Chair in Surgery.
'Sometimes Hail Marys work'
The surgery protocol would give Mr. Cueto a new liver by transplant and surgically remove the bile duct. Of the 7,000 liver transplants that take place nationwide every year, only 1 percent address bile duct cancer in the same surgery.
Dr. Vagefi told Mr. Cueto, “It’s a little bit of a Hail Mary pass, but sometimes Hail Marys work.”
UT Southwestern had the expertise, but Mr. Cueto had to wait for a liver to become available. A man he knew suffered from a similar condition, and he was alarmed to see his health decline rapidly. The man was near death when he received a partial liver transplant from a living donor.