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An 11-Hour Surgery for This Liver Cancer Patient: And Now, Living His Life

October 05, 2021

Glass-half-empty people might think 72-year-old Louis Tafuto is unlucky because he’s had cancer three times: colorectal in 2014, prostate in 2018 and liver in 2021.

Glass-half-full people — which Louis and his wife Yvonne are — would consider the West Hartford man lucky, because he has survived all three.

“It’s been a long road but I am feeling pretty good now,” Louis said. “My prognosis is guarded, but we are optimistic. We are very blessed – we have had good people taking care of us every step of the way.”

It was through routine blood work ordered by his primary care doctor, Dr. Jack Schmetterling of Hartford HealthCare’s Medical Group, that the liver cancer was discovered.

“My doctor told me, ‘Your results are all good except your liver panel,’” Louis said. “So he ordered more tests.”

More blood work, an ultrasound, MRI and CT scans all confirmed there was a large mass on his liver. A biopsy confirmed cancer. Louis was referred to Dr. David Curtis of the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute or surgery.

“Dr. Curtis walked us through what he wanted to do,” Louis said. “I was a good candidate for the surgery so we said let’s go ahead.”

The 11-hour procedure at Hartford Hospital resulted in the removal of about 70 percent of Louis’ liver, his gallbladder and a resection and reconstruction of his left bile duct.

“When I woke up in recovery, Dr. Curtis came in, and he put his hand on my shoulder, and he told me, ‘Today was a wonderful day’,” Louis said. “I am extremely grateful. Dr. Curtis is a genius, a miracle worker.”

That the surgery lasted so long was a good thing for the patient, Dr. Curtis said, because “if I had discovered that the cancer had metastasized, if it spread beyond his liver, we would’ve been done in under an hour. We want to work a long day, we want to carefully get all the cancer out and give him the best chance for remission.”

Typically, liver cancer doesn’t present any symptoms until it is far along, making it difficult to treat.

“It’s a testament to his sticking to his regular blood work schedule even during COVID that the cancer was detected this early,” Dr. Curtis said.

Currently in chemotherapy under the care of HHC oncologist Dr. Timothy Hong, Louis will find out soon if he will later need radiation.. Regardless of the treatments, he and Yvonne are not slowing down.

“We walk three to four miles several times a week, we travel to see our sons and grandsons,” he said. “Dr. Hong told us to live our lives.”

“Hartford HealthCare has been wonderful,” Yvonne said. “Dr. Curtis couldn’t have been more articulate about the plan, and is really kind. When Lou was in surgery they called me every two hours from the operating room with an update.”

Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute