Stories of Hope: David Mankuta

After several weeks of abdominal pain last summer, I visited my primary physician. He ran a few tests, suspecting that my pain may have been related to previous issues, and I went home. By the time I went back two weeks later, I had developed some back pain. He promptly focused on the pancreas since it was located between the stomach and the spine where my pain was concentrated. He ordered a CT scan which showed “something” on the pancreas. Two MRI’s later, my doctor, together with a gastroenterologist, showed us a mass at the head of the pancreas. Knowing that pancreatic cancer is a killer, I was overcome with panic.

After further consultation and evaluation, I learned I was a candidate for a Whipple surgery. Based on a very positive experience I had had at Columbia Presbyterian 12 years earlier with nephrologist Jai Radakrishnan, MD, my wife, Amy, immediately contacted the hospital and learned that Dr. John Chabot was THE Whipple expert (and coincidentally Dr. Whipple, who created the surgery, was based at Columbia). We contacted Dr. Chabot’s office and flew from Florida to NY five days later for more evaluation. The mass was confirmed and surgery scheduled for the following week. We flew back to Florida to prepare and gather the family.

July 13 — surgery day. Team David was fully assembled: My wife Amy, my daughters Sari and Marni and their boys, and my brother Eric all present and accounted for. As I was getting wheeled into operating room, Team David cheered me on. It was a bit tough to say good bye, but it is always harder on the family than it is on the patient.

Many hours later, still fogged from anesthesia, I was told surgery was a success. Dr. Erik Sylvin came out to the waiting room and spoke to my family, and they all came in to see me. I knew the surgery had gone well because Team David looked relieved. With my family by my side, it was time for post-op. One week later, at 6 am sharp, Dr. Chabot burst into my hospital room, flipped on the lights, and, with a big smile on his face, announced what we had been waiting to hear for weeks: no cancer.

What a moment (I’m tearing up now as I write this).

So, to recap: step 1 – successful surgery; step 2 – no cancer; step 3, a tough one — recovery. I spent the next 11 days in the hospital under the best care anyone could imagine. I had some incredible nurses, top notch doctors, everyone constantly checking in on us and making sure my wife and I were not only comfortable, but that I was making all necessary improvements. We spent the next two weeks in an apartment in NY so I could come in for monitoring and appointments. Then, finally, home to Hollywood, FL to continue recovery.

You constantly hear about how recovery is a slow process. I don’t think I fully understood how slow. Adjusting has taken time, and finding the perfect balance of food and activity has been tough, but I am getting there.

The other day, I visited with Dr. Chabot for follow-up. His parting words to me were, “I never want to see you again.” While that could be taken the wrong way, those were wonderful words to hear. The MRI showed all is working well and looking good.

Even though we live in South Florida, when faced with the prospect of serious pancreas surgery, there was no question in our minds that we would go to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. As far as we were concerned, that was the only place to go. Our past experience has given us such comfort and ease with the facility. Our confidence in my surgeon and the facility kept us from panicking as we moved towards surgery. And Dr. Chabot’s team – wow. During pre-operative preparation they were incredibly helpful, comforting, and available. The entire office staff was simply a pleasure, and moved things along swiftly and in a very organized way. After surgery, the resident team and Dr. Silva were concerned, caring and responsive, above and beyond what we ever expected; and, of course, Dr. Chabot is a prince. I will never forget how happy he was when he came into my room to let us know – no cancer. It was 6 am and he woke us up, but we all danced and hollered.

My outlook on life is a very good one – I am the eternal optimist. I firmly believe that is an essential element to a healthy life. It has worked for me in the past and works for me now. I have worked hard at recovery and am back at work four months after surgery, I am working out regularly, eating well, and feeling good. Yes, life is good. Having a strong family component, the best pancreatic surgeon in the country, and a top notch hospital certainly helps. I am a very lucky man and I know it!