LEWISTON, Maine — Brian Jordan remembers feeling lethargic when he visited the doctor on March 17, 2011. The Livermore Falls man never expected that later that day he’d receive a diagnosis of leukemia that would turn his life upside down.
In an unlikely twist of fate, Jordan, 54, was sickened by the same form of leukemia that took the life of his twin brother at just 18 years old, but the illness wasn’t genetic. Doctors said the chances that it would also strike him were astronomically small, he said.
Physicians wasted no time in treating him.
“Within hours I was in the hospital and they told me I needed to go to Boston for treatment,” Jordan said. “There’s was no way my family and friends could go to Boston to visit me. I was going to be in there for a while.”
Jordan arranged to begin chemotherapy infusions at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. After 43 days of treatment, he traveled to Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital for a second round of treatment. On July 4, 2012, he underwent a bone marrow transplant — a procedure unavailable in Maine — at Mass General.
Today, he alternates his followup appointments at CMMC and Mass General. His doctors at both hospitals communicate regularly with him and, importantly, with each other, he said.
“The two hospitals working together was great for me,” he said.
Jordan is feeling better, but still suffers from serious side effects from the transplant that have affected his eyes, lungs and skin, he said. He’s also been devastated financially and had to close his general contracting business. For now, he’s focused on getting well, he said.
Jordan is part of a collaboration between Central Maine Healthcare, the parent organization to CMMC, and Mass General’s Cancer Center that’s aimed at streamlining treatment for cancer patients who need specialty care. The partnership dates back a couple of years but was recently formalized and officially announced Thursday at the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing in Lewiston.
The collaboration involves patients from CMMC and Central Maine Healthcare’s other hospitals — Rumford Hospital, Bridgton Hospital and CMH-managed Parkview Adventist Medical Center in Brunswick.
Most of Central Maine Healthcare’s cancer patients can access the diagnostic and treatment services they need locally, but a small percentage of patients require the more specialized technology and expertise available at Mass General, doctors from both hospitals said Thursday.
Local physicians have referred cancer patients to Mass General for years. But under the newly formalized collaboration, doctors communicate better and patients can be seen more quickly, sometimes within 24 hours of a referral to Boston, hospital officials said. Patients’ treatment is kept as close to home as possible while taking advantage of Mass General’s specialized care, they said.
“Particularly if it’s of an urgent nature, it’s really very nice to be able to pick up the phone, to be able to call down to Mass General … and be able to get that really rapid feedback and be able to refer patients quickly,” said Nicholette Erickson, a local oncologist.
Mass General consistently ranks among the best hospitals in the nation, taking the No. 1 spot on the 2012-13 U.S. News & World Report’s America’s Best Hospitals list. The hospital is a center of excellence in imaging research and cancer genetics.
Some of the services Mass General offers that aren’t available locally include special types of radiation therapy, proton beam radiation, and some surgical techniques for rare forms of cancer, the doctors said. Patients will have access to Mass General’s wide selection of clinical trials for experimental cancer drugs as well.
Patients also may travel to Boston simply for a second opinion or consult, then return to Maine for all of their treatment, Erickson said.
She estimated that about 50 to 100 cancer patients a year would take advantage of Mass General’s services. Patients who prefer to be referred to other hospitals will still have that option.
Mass General’s team of “nurse navigators” works to ease patients’ experience, by ensuring that X-rays, pathology slides and other information is on hand in Boston when they arrive for consults, said Dr. Karen Ballen, clinical director of the leukemia program at Mass General. The nurses also help patients to arrange transportation and housing if they need to remain in Boston for several weeks after a procedure.
Marguerite Marston, 59, of Bridgton praised the Boston hospital’s staff for their kindness during her recent leukemia treatment. The nurses brought her a cake on her birthday and took her to the beauty shop in the hospital to pick out hats after her hair fell out, she said.
“They made it my home while I was there,” Marston said.
Her doctors, Erickson and Ballen, communicate well about her ongoing treatment, and she never had to worry about keeping them up to date when she was feeling sick, she said.
The partnership largely involves clinical collaboration, but the two organizations have contracted for some services, including genetic counselors from Mass General who will visit Maine periodically starting next month, said Chuck Gill, a spokesman for Central Maine Healthcare.
CMMC’s trauma team also has a relationship with Mass General.
Other hospitals in Maine collaborate with Boston hospitals on specialty care. The cancer program at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, for example, has a decades-long relationship with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.