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Published on December 13, 2018

Todd Wolthuis

Patient Joins Clinical Trial Because He’s Not Willing to Give Up

Keep that doom and gloom away from Todd Wolthuis. He’s not having it.

The 52-year-old Tea resident is a U.S. Marine veteran, but it’s not just his time in the Corps that’s driving his determination.

Wolthuis was found to have lung cancer that spread to his brain. After brain surgery and radiation therapy, he faced a fork in the road as he continued treatment for his lung cancer.

He could take part in traditional chemotherapy, or be part of a clinical trial for patients facing lung cancer.

“For me it was about not giving up, and with the clinical trial, I have a better quality of life. I would not have that with the traditional approach,” said Wolthuis. “For me, this is a good alternative, and a better choice. You don’t know what’ll happen and by being a part of this experiment, it could help someone coming up who faces the same thing.”

The program he’s taking part in is called the Survival Prolongation by Rationale Innovative Genomics (SPRING) trial, and it is part of the Avera Cancer Institute’s role in the Worldwide Innovative Networking (WIN) Consortium. That program recently received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permission to continue the trial. Wolthuis is only the second patient – in the world – to join the trial.

Benjamin Solomon, MD, Avera Medical Group medical oncologist, is the lead physician on the trial. Wolthuis’ physician, Heidi McKean, MD, Avera Medical Group medical oncologist, told him so far: she’s seeing good results.

“There’s been a partial response, and that’s incredible,” Wolthuis said. “Heidi and Chris (Gant, CNP) are really easy to work with, and I can give them guff and they don’t seem to mind. They spelled everything out to me with the trial. They helped me understand it and to me, it seems fair. Especially since it’s going to contribute to others down the road. It’s not just for me.”

It was Halloween 2017 when symptoms cropped up for Wolthuis. He was wheezing on a daily walk and figured it was just allergies, considering the time of year. He later felt dizzy and “not right” and while he received care as a veteran, his family encouraged him to go to Avera.

“My mom retired after a 30-year career with Avera, and one of my sisters worked there for quite a while, too. They were instrumental in helping me find the right people,” Wolthuis said. “My father, Stretch Wolthuis, was also an Avera employee. He died of cancer 25 years ago. If he had the same research and knowledge, or a trial like I’m in, I believe he might still be alive.”

The care-team helped, as did Wolthuis’ appreciation of what it would take to keep positive in the face of his challenges.

“Initially, all I was getting was this ‘doom and gloom’ and I couldn’t stand it. It was different here,” said Wolthuis. “I have two of my mottos, and they sum things up pretty well. One is from Winston Churchill, he said, ‘Never, never, never give up.’ The other is Tom Petty, who said, ‘I won’t back down.’ That’s my perspective on why I’m here today, and why I’m taking part in this trial.”

He underwent surgery and radiation oncology treatment for the mass in his brain in 2017. It was successful, and Wolthuis said beyond the leading-edge nature of the clinical trial and his confidence in his physician and her team, he’s felt at home during his many visits to the Prairie Center.

“People are great here, and everyone seems upbeat, and that they like me as a person. I’m not a number,” he said. “The sense I get, every visit, is that everyone truly cares. That helps me and my family. They’re not giving up, and I’m not going to quit or back down on this, either.”

Live Better. Live Balanced. Avera.

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