Niagara Gazette

December 30, 2013

Surgeon known for Kevin Everett treatment battles back from leukemia

By Kaley Lynch
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Dr. Andrew Cappuccino was finishing a round of golf on Labor Day weekend when he got a call from his friend and personal doctor.

It wasn’t to chat — it was an order to come in for a bone marrow biopsy.

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

Cappuccino was eventually 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 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 five and a half months of treatment 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,” she said.

Added Andrew, “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!”

The stem cells that may have saved his life may be the future of Cappuccino’s career. Prior to his diagnosis, he 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.”

The multi-potential stem 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. It’s 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 next month.

“I can’t wait to get back,” he 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