Keck Medicine of USC is the University of Southern California’s medical enterprise, one of only two university-owned academic medical centers in the Los Angeles area.

Giving Stories

Type A Meets Big C

As John Gaebel relaxes in a subtle flower-patterned chair at his home in Mission Viejo, CA, he thinks about how lucky he is. Gaebel, who towers above most people at 6’4”, has genuine joy in his eyes as he talks about his life — his career, his upcoming travel plans and his growing family: his wife, two sons and three grandchildren. He considers himself a “type A” personality, preferring to be in control of as many aspects of his life as possible.

To look at him, you might never know that just two years ago, Gaebel was dealt an blow that would send his world spinning out of his control. At age 64, the former dentist and business owner was unexpectedly diagnosed with Stage III esophageal cancer.

The prognosis for such a late-stage disease isn’t good; according to Gaebel’s Keck Medicine of USC surgeon, only about 35 percent of those in Gaebel’s shoes survive. But this is where Gaebel has been truly lucky. Between being in excellent health at the time of his diagnosis, having the support of a loving family and receiving outstanding treatment from his Digestive Health team at Keck Medicine of USC, he has come through his illness to a near-full recovery — and with a new lease on life.

Unwelcome News
Gaebel’s story began during a routine visit to his primary care physician in March 2012. “I had what I thought was some indigestion,” he said. After learning Gaebel’s symptoms, his doctor suggested they take a look at his stomach through a scope, just in case. Confident that nothing was wrong, Gaebel agreed to the procedure. But a few days later, he received a call that changed his life.

“I can remember the day quite…  Read More »

Firefighter’s wife freed from acoustic neuroma

Christine House, a mother of two and wife to a New Hampshire firefighter, was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma and had surgery at a prestigious medical center near her home. The surgery was unsuccessful, leading Christine to seek out the best in the field. Her search brought her across the country to Keck Medicine of USC, where she was treated by Steven Giannotta, MD, chair of neurological surgery, and Rick Friedman, MD, PhD, director of the USC Acoustic Neuroma Center.

Beating Back Pain

John Caruana came to the USC Spine Center looking for a second opinion about a proposed treatment for his chronic back pain. The lifelong athlete underwent spinal fusion surgery in his late 20s to relieve pain he believes resulted from taking too many hits playing high school football and soccer at California State University, Dominguez Hills. Although that first procedure had been successful for 15 years, the pain returned in his early 40s. “I couldn’t even pick up my son without my back getting stiff,” said Caruana, now 49. “I felt like an old man.”

Another surgeon had proposed a second fusion, this time of the vertebra directly above the site of the original fusion. Recalling how long that first surgery sidelined him, Caruana wanted to be sure he was doing the right thing before agreeing to have spinal fusion surgery a second time.

As it turned out, the second opinion was a good idea. John Liu, professor of neurosurgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and co-director of the USC Spine Center, ordered a 36-inch X-ray, which revealed something Caruana’s first surgeon couldn’t see: He had flatback syndrome, meaning he had lost some of the natural curvature of his spine — possibly as a result of that long-ago spinal fusion.

Back pain is extremely common with so many causes that diagnosis can pose a challenge, noted Liu. The team at USC uses large X-rays to review the alignment of the spine. “Looking at the alignment is a newer concept and not everyone does it,” Liu explained. In Caruana’s case, it revealed important information and showed that the previously recommended surgery would not have ended his pain.

The team at the…  Read More »