After retiring in 2019 from a successful career as a mechanical engineer, Paul Deutschle has been living a full life with lots of traveling, gardening and landscaping. He spends every moment he can with his family - his biggest supporters.
Today, he’s healthy and continues to live his life on the west side of Cincinnati, Ohio, but not long ago, this wasn’t the case. He had to overcome a rare cancer that’s only diagnosed a few times a year in the U.S.
Paul first went to the doctor for an issue with his throat following his retirement. Nothing seemed seriously wrong until a family vacation at Disney World Resort in Orlando Florida. Paul and his family were visiting the Star Wars exhibit when he attempted to do his well-known impression of Yoda.
Part of Paul’s Yoda impression includes him hitting the high-frequency notes of the character. However, on this day at Disney World, he couldn’t hit the high frequency—something that’s never failed him. It was at this point that Paul knew there was a bigger problem.
Paul returned to Cincinnati and had a biopsy done on his throat, which revealed a very rare form of laryngeal cancer, slowly growing in his voice box.
Laryngeal cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells form in the tissues of the larynx, or the voice box. Head and neck cancers make up only about three percent of all cancer cases seen in the U.S. each year.
Because of the complexity and rarity of his cancer, his doctors weren’t sure what do to.
Neither Paul nor his wife, Anita, were prepared for the diagnosis. They were told that cartilage in his neck would need to be removed in order to treat the cancer, and eventually, surgeons would also need to remove his voice box, which would prevent him from talking, and would force him to breathe with a tracheostomy tube in his neck for the rest of his life.
Scrambling to find an alternative treatment option, a family friend recommended Paul go to the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center and see Aaron D. Friedman, MD, UC Health laryngologist and associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology-Ear, Nose & Throat at the UC College of Medicine, and a week later, Paul was on his way to his appointment.
“Paul came to me initially with the diagnosis of the very rare laryngeal cancer called chondrosarcoma,” explained Dr. Friedman. “As I mentioned to him, this is an extraordinarily uncommon disease—usually just a handful of cases in the country at a time.”
Despite the grave concerns for his life and the uncertainty given his condition, Paul felt at ease knowing he had an expert in his corner who knew how best to treat him.
“It was almost like puzzle pieces falling in a perfect pattern,” said Paul.
Dr. Friedman worked with Chad A. Zender, MD, UC Health associate chief medical officer, head and neck surgeon, and professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at the UC College of Medicine, to devise a care plan in which they could remove Paul’s cancer while preserving his vocal, breathing and swallowing functions. Dr. Zender has experience with unique procedures to rebuild the throat—all while keeping the vocal cords intact.