But, given Andrew’s continued recovery, the mass could not be removed immediately.
“When he came to us he was in bad shape,” said Elliot Wakeam, MD, thoracic surgeon and assistant professor at Michigan Medicine. “He had no hair. He didn’t look well. We had CT scans from when he was in hospital, and we got the idea that the lump was only increasing. not that much. We thought the best way to balance the risk was to wait and let him recover from his COVID and hospitalization and delay the operation.
Wakeam has been following Andrew’s progress for some time, watching Andrew recover “surprisingly” well from his battle with COVID. In the spring of 2021, Wakeam was able to completely remove the mace.
“Andrew continues to have scans every four to six months to make sure the tumor hasn’t come back,” Wakeam said. “But he is now essentially considered cured. In addition to dodging a massive bullet in the form of horrible COVIDs, he also dodged a bullet here.
Trusting the ‘lady who saved Andrew’s life’
When COVID-19 vaccines became available, Andrew and Elizabeth turned to Napolitano for advice – unwittingly, at first.
Napolitano was one of five frontline workers Michigan Medicine randomly selected to receive the health system’s first vaccines. She was featured in a video documenting that day that Elizabeth saw on Instagram.
Elizabeth said she shared the video with everyone she knew.
“This lady saved Andrew’s life,” Elizabeth said. “If she knows how to save the life of someone who shouldn’t have gotten sick in the first place but did, and she gets vaccinated, then why wouldn’t we? That was logic.”
“I knew they were filming it, but I didn’t know it was going to be all over the place, so I didn’t tell anyone about it,” Napolitano said. “What I did intentionally was that every one of our patients who came back to the clinic, including Andrew, I was begging them to get vaccinated. Yes, we were able to get Andrew through, but that’s a lot better if you never get that sick I always say I wish I could grab all the unvaccinated people in the world and guide them into our intensive care unit to see young, healthy people on life support who are not going not good.
The best result
Andrew has, as Napolitano put it, “been through hell, poor thing.”
“But,” she added. “His girlfriend was there the whole time.”
“There are days when I get this ‘Woe to me’ kind of thing,” Andrew. “Then I step back and think, ‘You’re here. You must be patient.’ Elizabeth has been tremendous in being there every step of the way. If I hadn’t had it, I think it would be a completely different situation.
He stopped and thought back to the beginning of his relationship.
“When I first arrived at the hospital, Elizabeth and I were still new to dating,” he said. “When I woke up I still couldn’t speak and I remember seeing her face. She was always there when she had every opportunity to run, and she didn’t. It was more than obvious, like a slap, that she’s the one, and I’m not letting her go.”
“I like to think of myself as a planner,” Elizabeth said. “But I couldn’t plan this. The biggest lesson of all of this is that life is short and you have to enjoy every minute you can.”
Andrew proposed about two months after his release from hospital, at a Traverse City winery, and he and Elizabeth were married on October 30, 2021.
Instead of spending money on gifts for their guests, they donated to the Michigan Surgical Medicine Intensive Care Unit. They shared this news at their reception, accompanied by a round of applause to honor healthcare workers and recognize what they have been through over the past few years.
“It’s been a very scary 75 days and filled with a lot of unknowns, but the UM team has helped us more than they will know,” Elizabeth wrote in an email to UM’s development office. “They are what inspired the gift for us. ‘Thank you’ will never be enough.”
Note: The investigational device was used in this patient under an emergency expanded access approval from the FDA. It is made by Seastar Medical, Inc., a company in which Michigan medical researcher H. David Humes, MD, study coordinator Angela Westover and the University of Michigan hold a financial interest. The company also has a clinical trial of this approach underway at UM and elsewhere; UM’s participation in the trial is managed in accordance with all applicable UM policies and overseen by Lenar Yessayan, MD