Houston VA Hospital Offers New Mesothelioma Center

3 Min Read

landscape view of houston va hospital

A team of mesothelioma experts from Baylor’s St. Luke Hospital has joined forces with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital to create a new mesothelioma center for military veterans at the Houston location.

The center offers a network of comprehensive care beginning with diagnosis to cutting-edge treatment and follow-up care.

“Patients should go to a place that understands the details and can walk them through in the most valuable way of a step-by-step approach,” said Dr. R. Taylor Ripley, a thoracic surgeon who heads the Baylor Mesothelioma Center set to work in tandem with the VA center.

Taylor and his colleagues team with Dr. Lorraine Cornwell, also a thoracic surgeon, who leads the Mesothelioma Center at the VA hospital.

The two centers reside in close proximity to each other — with one across the street from the other — making their collaboration convenient for patients.

All-Inclusive Care For Veterans With Mesothelioma

Together, the experts, including Dr. Eugene Choi of Baylor who specializes in peritoneal mesothelioma, will provide a network of care for veterans coming into the VA for treatment.

Pleural mesothelioma impacts the lining of the lungs and often takes its victims in less than two years. Peritoneal mesothelioma is a less common form of mesothelioma that alters the cells in the stomach cavity.

Mesothelioma plagues military families across the country, with one out of three diagnoses being attributed to a veteran. The fatal asbestos-related disease stems from the military’s rampant use of the deadly mineral in shipping and building projects for several decades before, during, and after World War II.

Mesothelioma Experts Discuss New VA Center on Podcast

The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF) recently aired a podcast on their website interviewing doctors Ripley, Cornwell, and Choi on the new center and its offerings.

Discussion host and Mesothelioma Foundation Executive Director Mary Hesdorffer, N.P., expressed the dire need for a center of this kind at a veterans hospital where many military veterans go for care.

“A lot of times patients access care locally not realizing the VA has a specialty in this area, a comprehensive center that can address every need,” she said.

Cornwell describes the process as a network between local doctors who will refer patients to the Houston VA Center for comprehensive care to determine the best treatment for an optimal outcome.

Cornwell and her colleagues perform the initial evaluation, which alone provides a level that may exceed what is done elsewhere.

“The first step before any standard treatment is a full evaluation,” says Ripley. “I think they are underperformed too often. A true evaluation takes about two weeks to get all the tests and properly stage a patient to decide on treatment options.

“There are strong teamwork aspects,” adds Cornwell.

Mesothelioma Expert Surgeons Put Their Heads Together

Putting their minds together, Ripley, Cornwell, and Choi offer mesothelioma patients a breadth and width of knowledge that they may not get anywhere else.

The famed and now deceased Dr. David Sugarbaker who began the Baylor St. Luke’s Mesothelioma Program handpicked Ripley to succeed him. Ripley spent years performing operations on mesothelioma victims at Sloan Kettering and later at the National Cancer Institute.

For a decade Dr. Cornwell has performed heart and lung surgery at the Houston VA hospital, working on some of the most traumatic cases. She understands how the VA works and what can be offered for veterans to optimize their treatment plan.

Dr. Choi joined the Baylor team from the University of Chicago where he collaborated with another doctor who specialized in peritoneal mesothelioma. While working for Dr. Sugarbaker, Choi, previously trained as a gastrointestinal surgeon, focused his work on peritoneal mesothelioma, which impacts the stomach cavity.

“We don’t work in a bubble. We work as a team, and after we determine staging [of the cancer], we get a consensus of treatment with the team,” explained Choi.

The Mesothelioma Foundation Executive Director hails the new VA center program, “The window has now opened so vets can avail themselves to cutting-edge treatment and participate in clinical trials which are so important.”

Veterans Support Team
Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

  1. Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation Podcast. (2019, Nov. 11). Mesothelioma Program At Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston, Texas. Retrieved from: https://www.curemeso.org/get-involved/attend-conferences-and-events/meet-the-mesothelioma-experts-podcast-broadcast-series/mesothelioma-program-at-veterans-affairs-medical-center-in-houston-texas/