There's a reason why some of the cardiologists at MD Anderson treat Mark Wood like a rock star. Not only did he beat the deadliest form of skin cancer, but he also overcame obstacle after obstacle, including the "widow maker," a coronary artery that threatened to shut down.
It was an experience that occurred in the short time span of two years, and it's one that Wood says has left him thankful for every minute of every day.
A string of complications
Wood's health problems surfaced in 2007, when he was diagnosed with melanoma. For nearly nine years, the Sherman, Texas, police officer was concerned about a mole on his back that was constantly being irritated from rubbing against his police vest.
For a while, Wood says, his physicians didn't think anything of it. But after having the abscessed mole removed, he became a patient of Patrick Hwu, M.D., who diagnosed him with melanoma. In less than a year, the disease had spread.
"I had actually been on interferon for six months, but Dr. Hwu noticed the disease was starting to affect another part of my body," Wood says. "It had gone to my right lung, and a tumor the size of a nickel had formed."
In early October 2008, Wood underwent surgery to remove the lung tumor. However, he had a seizure mid-surgery, forcing doctors to stop the procedure.
Another surgery was scheduled, and the tumor was removed on Oct. 15. Wood began recovering from the surgery, but two days later, he aspirated and went into flash pulmonary edema when fluid began accumulating in his lungs. The condition prompted doctors to put Wood into an induced coma.
The next day, Wood had a second episode of pulmonary edema as doctors removed his breathing tube. This series of complications placed a lot of pressure on his heart. When he showed no sign of improvement after three weeks, Cezar Iliescu, M.D., decided a coronary angiography was needed.
Treating a second diagnosis
For the procedure, Wood was taken into a cardiac catheterization lab, where doctors could insert a catheter into his arteries and examine the heart's condition.
A cardiac catheterization laboratory contains specialized technology that benefits cancer patients when they need more thorough cardiac evaluations and certain procedures.
Wood's cath lab results showed severe left main coronary artery disease. Given his condition, bypass surgery was too much of a risk. And because he was still in a coma, doctors decided to place a stent in his artery to keep it open.
"Having a stent put in was the best decision the doctors could have made for me," Wood says. "The problem was in my upper left main artery, which they call 'the widow maker.' If that shuts down, you have a massive heart attack and die. So if I hadn't gotten that stent, I probably wouldn't be here today."
The road to full recovery
Wood immediately recovered after having the stent placed and came out of the coma on Dec. 6, 2008. But after spending nearly two months in bed, he had to learn to walk again through extensive physical therapy. Seven months later, by Father's Day in 2009, Wood returned to duty with the Sherman Police Department, where he has served for 13 years.
Today, he is free of melanoma and the tumor. He has fully recovered from his heart condition, and the lesions that developed on his liver from the melanoma continue to shrink.
Wood continues to share his experience by speaking at churches, and he credits the prayers and presence of his support team, including the Sherman Police Department, his mother, his siblings and three young daughters, Brittany, Katherine and Courtney, for getting him through the most difficult time of his life.
"My mom was so faithful through it all," Wood says. "She's my rock and my strength. She prayed by my side every day, and she prayed over the doctor's hands before he put in the stent. I think it was her actions that gave the doctors the hope and strength they needed to take care of me."
If you ask Wood about his experience at MD Anderson, he can't say enough about the doctors and staff who took care of him.
"They're my family," Wood says of his team of health care providers. "They were with me at the lowest point of my life. I think I crashed 11 times, and they brought me back each time. To this day, my chest still hurts once in a while from the compressions they performed on me. It's a daily reminder of how blessed I am to be here."