KD Sunday Spotlight: Pittsburgh Sarcoma Treatment

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — “It used to be just benches, and they built this beautiful tissue culture room for us,” said Dr. Kurt Weiss.

Weiss has a new lab at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center to pursue his passion.

“I learned from a very early age that sarcoma research saves lives,” said Weiss, an orthopedic oncologist at UPMC.

At the age of only 15, Weiss went to the orthopedic oncologist Dr. Mark Goodman of UPMC, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma.

“My father, in a trembling voice that never wavered, said, ‘Dr. Goodman, it looks like bone cancer.’ And he said, “Mr. Weiss, that’s exactly it, and if you’re lucky and the cancer hasn’t spread to Kurt’s lungs, there’s a 65% chance he’ll be alive in 5 years,” Weiss said.

Unfortunately, Weiss said, the cancer had spread to his lungs.

He underwent surgeries, chemotherapy and clinical examination.

Goodman also had to have his right leg amputated above the knee due to an infection.

But through it all, Weiss found his purpose and partner for life.

“He’s my family,” Weiss said. “He is also my teacher. Both scientifically and surgically. Dr. Goodman let me come into his operating room when I was 17 years old.”

“He’s a special guy,” Goodman said. “We clicked. Our personalities clicked. It was fun to have him around. Smart. Asked good questions.”

“After spending time with Dr. Goodman as a student AND as a resident, I said, ‘I’m home.’ This is what God made me do. I’m going to be an orthopedic cancer doctor,” Weiss said.

Weiss and Goodman worked together for nine years at UPMC before Goodman retired.

They still do through Sarcoma Care of Pittsburgh.

The non-profit organization raises awareness about the disease and money to fund research.

“We have very good researchers at McGee, Children’s, Allegheny General, Morgantown at WVU, all of them doing sarcoma research,” Goodman said. “By keeping the amount raised here, we’ve been able to support researchers in the local area.”

“I really think we’ve built and are building the capacity to make a lot of progress in these diseases and a lot of progress, and just the growth of research in Pittsburgh since I came back here in 2010 has been pretty impressive,” said Weiss.

According to Goodman, treatment has come a long way since the 1970s.

“The survival rate for severe disease has gone from 16% to about 70-75%,” Goodman said. “Amputations have gone from 80% to less than 20%. We’ve made significant improvements in limb reconstruction and functional ability, and we’re still making progress.”

Thanks to doctors like Weiss, one of the few doctor-scientists who specialize in sarcoma and are looking for a cure.

“I’ve watched him go from where I put my hands on the operating table to making very complex custom prostheses,” Goodman said. “I am very proud of him. He is much smarter than me. It’s all on him.”

Weiss praises Goodman for imparting his wisdom.

“I do my best and try to live up to the ideals he taught me, that you never give up on your patients and treat them like family,” Weiss said. “And sometimes they become your family.”

Like these two who went from patient and doctor to father and son.

For more information or to participate, please contact Pittsburgh Cure Sarcoma website at this link.

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