SUMMIT, NJ - It takes a village…not just to raise a child, but to treat patients with brain tumors. The Gerald J. Glasser Brain Tumor Center in Overlook Medical Center is the medical version of a village and, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, the official ribbon cutting ceremony marked its grand opening.
Members of the Glasser Foundation, two of the three co-directors of the Glasser Brain Tumor Center, members of its staff, Overlook Foundation Board members, family members of brain tumor patients, at least one patient, and other hospital personnel were on hand to celebrate the official opening of the center.
Gerald J. Glasser, better known as “Gerry,” served on the Overlook Foundation Board and was its president from 2008-2010. A lifelong resident of Westfield, he was the president of a family charity, the Thomas Glasser Foundation, and the founding father and ongoing supporter of Imagine, A Center for Coping with Loss, which provides free grief support for children, families and communities.
On Wednesday, his daughter, Margie Ticknor, didn’t mince words when it came to her father, “My father would absolutely hate this … Anyone who knows my dad knows he did not like the limelight and would hate that his name is on the brain tumor center, but all of us Glassers and Ticknors are very proud that we have done this.”
What they did was to ignore their father’s suggestion that they close the Glasser Foundation. Instead, they made a donation to fund the Brain Tumor Center and allowed “the use of Gerry’s name,” as Overlook Medical Center President Alan Leiber said when he thanked them for “their incredible generosity.”
The Gerald J. Glasser Brain Tumor Center has three co-directors, Yaron Moshel, MD, a neurosurgeon, Kurt Jaeckle, MD, neuro oncologist and Louis Schwartz, MD, a radiation oncologist. The three men are the pillars of their program, but the center encompasses so much more.
Dr. Moshel said, “The real focus is our patients.” The center will “allow us to work together … with the greater good that comes out of us being in the same space and seeing patients together.”
Dr. Jaeckle explained, “We have all kinds of other people involved: nutrition support; palliative support; pain management support; nursing support; the Thomas Glasser Care Giver Center for the patients and their families is critical, and the nurse navigator will help patients in their travel or sojourn through these illnesses.”
Joana Emmolo, MD, a radiation oncologist, said there is also a “great mind body program” for patients.
For patients and staff alike, the best part is all of these services are available either within the center or within walking distance, so coordination of appointments and services is easy.
The center and the Medical Center is equipped with “state-of-the-art equipment. All top of the line. They couldn’t buy us better equipment,” said Emmolo.
Dr. Jaeckle said the center is also able to offer a large portfolio of clinical trials that “will offer people in this area what they wouldn’t normally be able to get.” Previously patients had to travel to New York City, Philadelphia or Boston to take part in trials. “Our idea is to offer the same quality of care or even better, right here in New Jersey,” he said.
Michael and Christina Azares of Parsippany have experienced the team effort and support systems of the Brain Tumor Center. Christina has been a patient for just over a year. She was travelling on business for UPS near Atlanta last October when she said, “I started not feeling well.” Then she experienced “partial seizures” and lost track of where she was. She visited an urgent care facility, which contacted her primary care physician, who contacted ANS.
“While I was flying home, these guys were talking,” she said. “I had an appointment the next day,” they ran tests and on the next day, “I met Dr. Moshel.” That’s when he had to tell her she had a problem that was “significant enough to schedule somewhat immediate surgery.”
She said, “It was just amazing how he dealt with us after just being introduced to us, giving us a level of comfort of it being possible … He was willing to accommodate not just our own digestion of what’s going on” but also Christina’s need to hold the planned birthday party for her young daughter before surgery.
“I always got the sense of their dedication, compassion for their patients,” she said. She was introduced to Dr. Jaeckle right after her surgery, when he was brand new to Overlook, and to Pat Egan, who is on his team and then Dr. Schwartz. “I highly respect what they are capable of and how they execute it and they do it in a compassionate way,” Christina said.
After the biopsy, she learned she had a glioblastoma, Level 4. “Dr. Moschel removed as much of it as he could,” more than 99% percent, but she learned with this type of cancer there was a likelihood of it re-growing. She had six weeks of radiation treatment, then chemotherapy
She still works at UPS, “You learn to live with whatever you are going through,” she said. There are ups and downs along the way, she said. “It wasn’t just the beginning, that was a heck of a ride, but in the spring, I learned I had a second tumor.”
They found out about the tumor on Memorial Day weekend and on June 5 it was surgically removed. The doctors weren’t satisfied with the chemotherapy drug they were using, so they conferred and decided to try Avastin in July. In September, they found a third tumor – it was barely started, so Dr. Emmolo performed Cyberknife on Christina’s birthday. It was a five-day course of treatment, and Christina said, “It knocked it out.” She continues to take Avastin.
Christina credits the compassion of the team and her friends and family with her positive attitude. “We are building a new normal,” she said. As for the hospital, “It’s like a second home – whatever it is, even just asking a question, I can call their cell phone.”
Michael, a systems manager at Conduit, agreed, “They definitely care.” He is able to work from home or the hospital, and “Every time I take her for chemo, I go into the Caregiver Center. It’s a wonderful space … I really appreciate it … It’s a good place. I can’t ask for a better place for her to be cared for.”
The Azares are experiencing what Dr. Jaeckle said he would choose for his slogan for the center, “Personalized Medicine with a Personal Touch.”