Navy veteran thanks Duke doctors for second chance at life

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A procedure at Duke gave a Navy veteran a second chance at life (WTVD)

At 71, David Dyer has seen his fair share of adventures.

"I got the opportunity in 1966 to call a dive on an old WWII sub..." he recalls.

But, almost four years ago, this Navy veteran with a zest for life and a passion for gardening received devastating news.

"Basically, I was stage three and given approximately six to 11 and a half months to live," he remembers, going on to explain how he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and told his tumor was inoperable.

It was inoperable because the tumor had actually wrapped itself around a major artery, something that happens in a small number of patients.

"For these patients, their only options were to have the standard treatment of radiation or chemotherapy. And previously, these were patients who were told they could not have a surgical resection because their tumors were involving critical blood vessels that could not be removed," explains Duke Surgical Oncologist Rebekah White, M.D.

So, Dyer found himself with no option but to hope chemotherapy would buy him more time, which it did, for a while. Then, just as he started to take a turn for the worse, he got news from Duke doctors who told him they now had another option called irreversible electroporation.

A doctor in Louisville, Kentucky was the pioneer in performing this procedure, and he helped oversee the first procedure done at Duke. Dyer was actually the second person to undergo this innovative procedure.

"Basically, we know that electricity makes the cell membranes leaky, and if you do too much electricity you kill the cells. So, we're doing the same thing to tumors," states Dr. White. "This is allowing a significant number of patients who previously had been told their tumors couldn't be removed to have surgical resection."

As for Dyer, he says attributes the timing to plenty of prayers on the part of his entire family and church community, and says he's eternally grateful to Duke staff. He's now three months out from that procedure, and both he and his doctors are optimistic about his future.

"They think they got it all, so I'm hoping the scan will show that's the case," he said with a broad grin.

Meanwhile, he's making the most of his time, embarking on new adventures.

"I went up to Chester [airfield] and jumped out of an airplane at 14,000 feet and free fell down to 5,000, it was incredible," he proudly shared.

For more on Duke's Cancer Center and Pancreatic Cancer Treatment, click here
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