Taking on Liver Cancer and Winning

March 7, 2022

Adanech BiratuAdanech Biratu, a native of Ethiopia, had never been really sick before and had no family history of cancer. So, when an X-ray revealed a tumor on her liver, she was feeling very stressed.

“I was having back pain and burning discomfort on my right side,” Biratu describes. “I was very weak and had no appetite. The weakness made things hard to do.”

When Biratu came to GW Hospital, she was not a candidate for surgery because of the location and size of the tumor. After interventional radiation treatment at GW Cancer Center, her oncologist George Kim, MD, knew she needed a specific liver treatment following the radiation and referred her to Lynt Johnson, MD, Director of the GW Liver and Pancreas Institute for Quality.

Dr. Johnson discovered that Biratu was a candidate for an advanced liver procedure called ALPPS, or associating liver partition and portal vein ligation for staged hepatectomy. This is only done by a handful of physicians in the country, and Dr. Johnson is one of the only physicians in the D.C. metro area to perform this procedure.

“They explained everything very well,” Biratu says. Because English is not her first language, a translator at GW helped out when Biratu’s daughter, Asnaku Wakyk, was not there to translate.

“We had good communication and we never felt rushed,” Wakyk explains. “It was like we were family.”

An Advanced, Life-Saving Procedure

ALPPS is a hybrid procedure for patients with tumors that are large or are in a tricky spot that require removal of a large part of the liver. In September, Dr. Johnson performed the surgery for Biratu in two parts.

First, he blocked off the portal vein, which is the main vein that carries blood to the liver. This is meant to cause the liver to function as if part of it has been removed, which triggers the other side of the liver to begin regeneration.

For the second part of the procedure, about two weeks after part one, Dr. Johnson performed a resection of the liver. This means that he removed the portion of the liver that had the tumor. Once the diseased part was removed, the rest of the liver was able to grow and take over all liver function.

Living Life Cancer-Free

After the procedure, Biratu is now free of cancer. Her recovery is going well, she says. “She does not take pain medications. She is a strong soul,” Wakyk adds.

Diet and exercise are large parts of the recovery process. Biratu is eating well, choosing foods recommended by the doctors. She is also staying active. “I am building more confidence every day,” Biratu says. “I used to be difficult to walk for three or four minutes. Now, I am walking 20 minutes a day.”

Both Biratu and her daughter are very grateful to GW Hospital and the Liver and Pancreas Institute. “I felt a teamwork spirit with the doctors and we were well-informed with the follow-up care,” Wakyk explains.

Biratu attends follow-up visits with Dr. Kim every six months now to check for any new symptoms, assess liver function and test for tumor markers. Wakyk and her three children support and care for her mother.

When asked if she would recommend GW Hospital to friends and family, Biratu says, “More than recommend. They took very good care of me.”

“GW Hospital saved my mother’s life,” Wakyk adds. “They make her laugh and take care of her. Thank you so much. God bless the whole team.”