Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

December 28, 2013

Healing a healer

By Kaley Lynch kaley.lynch@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Dr. Andrew Cappuccino was finishing a round of golf on Labor Day weekend this year when he got a call from his friend — and personal doctor.

The call was to tell to come in for a bone marrow biopsy.

“I thought it was a joke at first,” Cappuccino said. “Within 48 hours I was admitted into the hospital to begin chemotherapy.”

Cappuccino was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. The orthopedic spine surgeon, known for treating Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett for his cervical spine injury, was thrown for a loop.

“I’d never been sick a day in my life,” Cappuccino said.

Cappuccino and his wife, Helen, had just dropped their youngest of six children off at NYU to begin college. With all of the kids out of the house, Helen told him it was time to get himself a long overdue physical.

Tests showed that two genetic mutations in Cappuccino’s red blood cells caused the cancer to proliferate, putting him in a lower percentile to be cured. Luckily, one of the Lockport surgeon’s brothers was a perfect match for bone marrow stem cells.

After 5 and a half months of treatments at Roswell Park, there’s an 80 percent chance that Cappuccino’s leukemia has been cured.

Cappuccino’s wife Helen, a surgical oncologist at Roswell Park, was able to be with him both emotionally and physically throughout his ordeal. Since family members are permitted to stay with Roswell patients, Helen’s commute to work became much shorter during her husband’s hospital stay.

“I only had to take the elevator downstairs,” Helen said.

“As well as having the nursing staff, it was reassuring to know that I had a doctor by my side constantly, even though I’m terrified of doctors- Helen included!” Cappuccino joked.

The stem cells that may have saved Cappuccino’s life may be the future of his career. Prior to his diagnosis, Cappuccino was researching regenerating spinal discs through stem cells.

“When most people think of back surgery, they picture rods and screws,” Cappuccino said. “There are some problems with the spine that surgery can’t fix, but creating a brand new disc could.”

Stem cells are based in the human placenta, bone marrow, and certain lipids in the body. The multi-potential cells can differentiate to become specialized cells as needed.

Cappuccino has been working with Eastern Niagara Hospital on several FDA-approved projects using stem cells in joints of the spine. ENH is one of the only hospitals in the Northeast to offer this procedure.

“Lockport’s hospital is very forward thinking when it comes to doing stem cell research,” Cappuccino said.

During his recovery, Cappuccino caught up on some reading and finished the ‘Breaking Bad’ series. The surgeon says he’s now putting on weight and preparing to return to work at Buffalo Spine Surgery in January.

“I can’t wait to get back,” Cappuccino said. “I’m a bit of a workaholic, and after almost six months it’s going to be great to get back — this is kind of like a second life, a new chance for me.”

Contact reporter Kaley Lynch at 439-9222 ext. 6245 or Tweet to @Lynchie17