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Medical miracle saves Zulema from rare sarcoma

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Published: May. 12, 2022 at 5:31 AM CDT
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HACKENSACK, NJ (Ivanhoe Newswire) - Weeks after a young New Jersey woman had COVID, she was still experiencing strange symptoms. She assumed those symptoms were related to the virus and would eventually abate. Unfortunately, her health took a nosedive, and she received a diagnosis that, for many, would have been a death sentence. Instead, doctors devised a specialized treatment that saved her life.

Two years ago, Zulema Rubio had just recovered from COVID and wanted to get back into shape.

“I started jogging around the block because, at that time, we were all staying inside. But I couldn’t get down the block without being out of breath,” Rubio explained.

But when her face ballooned and her chest veins began to pop, doctors diagnosed Rubio with an intimal sarcoma, a very rare tumor that started in the lining of a major vein leading to the heart.

Andrew Pecora, MD, a medical oncologist at the Hackensack University Medical Center said, “Unless you can have the tumor surgically removed, you cannot cure it. And it’s a 100 percent fatality rate if you can’t remove it surgically.”

For Rubio, time was running out. Standard chemotherapy wouldn’t shrink the tumor fast enough. Doctors used genomic sequencing to find drugs that might work.

“He [DR. Pecora] said that there’s gonna be times where it’s gonna be really hard and you’re gonna wanna give up. And he said, ‘we’re still gonna do it’,” Rubio said.

Four days of around the clock chemotherapy followed by weeks of radiation and immunotherapy finally shrunk the tumor so surgery was possible. The surgery was a complex, 14-hour procedure.

“They actually were able to stop her heart, open up her heart in this vein, bypass the blood from the whole upper part of the body to allow them to peel this thing off from the inside of her vein and from inside her heart. And then close that all back up again, perfectly, so that it worked,” Dr. Pecora explained.

Rubio is now cancer free.

Dr. Pecora added, “This is a medical miracle and I’m a clinician, I’m a scientist. I don’t use words lightly. I’ve been doing this for 30 years. This is a true medical miracle.”

Rubio also realized another life goal; during her yearlong treatment, she decided instead of going to law school, she wanted to mentor kids. She is now halfway through her first year teaching freshman English at a charter school in Newark, New Jersey.

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