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Saving Arpita’s Eye

Mass Eye and Ear oculoplastic surgeon Michael K. Yoon, MD, was part of a team of doctors within the Mass General Brigham system who helped provide top medical care to an 11-year-old girl from Bangladesh with a rare form of eye cancer.

Arpita Rani needed help. When the then 10-year-old from Bangladesh was diagnosed with a rare eye cancer, she was limited in her treatment options back home. She could go to India for surgery but then might be lacking some of the necessary follow-up care to give her the best chances at beating the cancer. That’s when doctors and staff members within the Mass General Brigham health system stepped in and stepped up. They helped bring her to Boston for medical care, which landed her in the operating room of Dr. Michael Yoon, a member of the Ophthalmic Plastic Surgery Service.

“Arpita had a rare cancer that urgently needed removal,” Dr. Yoon told Focus. “When we were asked to participate in her care, without any hesitation we said yes.”

Rare eye cancer brings Arpita to Boston

Arpita Rani (center) and her father Shojib Kumal (center left) with her care team. From left to right, Bimalanshu Dey. MD, Shannon MacDonald, MD, Michael Yoon, MD, Lori Wirth, MD, Mary Huang, Karen (nurse).

Arpita had been diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare cancer of the lacrimal gland, a tear gland located next to the eye. The gland functions to make tears, but according to Dr. Yoon, it sometimes can be the site of cancer. This cancer is typically more common in adults over the age of 40 but in rarer cases children in the 10 to 13-year range may get diagnosed. It often starts innocuously, with swelling or slight aches or discomfort, but as with most cancers, it continues to grow until there becomes an obvious abnormality that requires treatment. It’s the type of cancer where you can not only lose your eye but your life.

Bimalangshu Dey, MD, a physician investigator at the Mass General Cancer Center, was the first to come across Arpita’s case. He sprang into action in tandem with the MGH Center for Global Health and helped secure funding in Bangladesh to bring Arpita to Boston. He then contacted doctors within Mass General Cancer Center and Mass Eye and Ear to see if they’d be willing to take on her case. To do this, they would need to donate their time and expertise.

“Everybody said yes without a second thought,” said Dr. Yoon. “Any time you work with a patient with a serious medical condition there is a significant emotional and personal investment. Yet we all said to Dr. Dey, ‘If you can make it happen, let’s do it.’ That was just a clear reflection of where everyone’s willingness was.”

Once the medical team was on board, Dr. Yoon connected with Becky Brown, director of Patient Access at Mass Eye and Ear. Her team helps facilitate the mission of Mass Eye and Ear: to ensure care for any patient who needs it. She worked with her counterparts at Mass General to make sure Arpita could get all the necessary treatments she needed at Mass Eye and Ear, including her surgery and clinic visits with Dr. Yoon, and any follow-up care. Like the doctors, her team was willing to go through any length to ensure Arpita got the best care possible. It’s stories like these make Brown proud to work at a place like Mass Eye and Ear, she said.

“It is a privilege and an honor to work at a place where we can help patients who need it most,” said Brown. “From my team to the administrative staff in Dr. Yoon’s clinic to the nurses, techs and other medical staff, so many people were involved in this girl’s care. It speaks to the passion we have for working towards our mission.”

Successful surgery and treatment

Arpita ringing the bell to signify the end of her treatment.

Accompanied only by her father, Arpita arrived in Boston October of 2021. Dr. Yoon performed surgery on October 8 in tandem with Mass General neurosurgeon Will Curry, MD. Dr. Yoon removed the tumor from the eye socket, and Dr. Curry made sure the cancer was cleared from an area approaching Arpita’s brain.

Such collaborations with other specialties are common for oculoplastics surgeons like Dr. Yoon, who frequently partner with neurosurgeons, ENTs, and oncologists for treating patients with varieties of cancers and other disease that can affect the eye and nearby areas.

After surgery, Arpita recovered for a month before she started chemotherapy and proton beam radiation, under the care of Lori Wirth, MD, Medical Director of the Center for Head and Neck Cancers at Mass General Cancer Center.  A big factor that drove Arpita to the U.S. for surgery was the unique pediatric proton therapy program offered at Mass General, one of the few centers of its kind worldwide.

Dr. Dey, who helped organize all the care, was with Arpita every step of the way.

“Arpita is a God gifted bundle of opportunities presented to us,” said Dey. “I find this all very inspiring because it is hinting at a transformative moment. I’m forever grateful to this Mass General and Mass Eye and Ear team. Arpita is a beautiful girl with a bright future ahead thanks to this international collaboration”.

Arpita received aggressive treatment and on January 26th, she rang the bell signifying the end of her proton beam radiation. It was time to prepare to head home to Bangladesh, cancer-free.

Celebration of a collaborative effort

Before Arpita left for Bangladesh in February, her doctors all gathered for a goodbye party where a news crew from WCVB was there to capture the festivities. It was a celebration of not only Arpita’s successful surgery and treatment, but of the hospitals coming together to provide care for a young girl who needed it most.

Dr. Yoon said he learned a lot from Arpita — not just about the rare cancer, but about her resilience. She came to a foreign place with only her father, where she did not know the language, food or environment. Arpita had never seen snow before coming to Boston. She also had her birthday during this time, turning 11 years old. Yet she maintained a positive, upbeat attitude throughout her stay as she underwent surgery, chemotherapy and proton beam radiation.

Said Dr. Yoon, “Arpita has taught me so much about resilience. We all have our struggles large and small, but that combination of illness, sickness, displacement and isolation and still being able to persist through it and maintain a positive spirit is just amazing.”

Watch more of Arpita’s story from WCVB Channel 5.

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