Clinical Trials

Running Toward a New Starting Line

Dennis Eller Discovers that UH Leadership in Clinical Trials Offers New Beginnings

Retail pharmacist Dennis Eller knows both personally and professionally that University Hospitals is invaluable to patients everywhere as a top-tier center of therapeutic clinical trials.

Throughout his professional career, Mr. Eller has seen global adoption of new wonder drugs that UH physician-scientists helped to develop. Mr. Eller’s personal link is even more profound: If his UH physicians had not enrolled him in a clinical trial, he might not be alive.

An avid runner who routinely completed half-marathons, he usually felt great. But in mid-2009, Mr. Eller began feeling persistently bad. Then, one day that fall, his wife found him lying in their Bay Village home, unresponsive. The diagnosis was primary brain lymphoma, a rare form of cancer with a bleak prognosis: Six of every 10 patients die within five years. He was only 49.

“I was scared,” says Mr. Eller. “I wanted to see my kids grow and graduate college. I thought I had years of life left to enjoy.”

A Rare Opportunity Opened

UH was taking part in a pertinent clinical trial, and there was room for one last patient. Over the next three months, doctors supplemented Mr. Eller’s intravenous chemotherapy regimen with a novel therapy: sending high doses of a medicine known as methotrexate directly to his brain tumor through a spinal tap. It worked: The tumor gradually disappeared.

After his treatment, Mr. Eller looked forward to putting his running shoes back on and hitting the pavement. First, he needed help from another member of the UH team: The chemotherapy had left Mr. Eller’s feet cold and numb. Lisa Rogers, DO, Director of the Neuro-Oncology Program and professor of Neurology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, charted a rigorous course of therapy and exercise to get Mr. Eller to the finish line of his recovery and the starting line of his new life as a cancer survivor.

Finally, on Thanksgiving Day 2012, Mr. Eller and his family knew he had crossed both lines. Together, he and his wife and children started their holiday celebration early with a five-mile race running through downtown Cleveland.

Not long afterward, Dr. Rogers saw him wearing the Turkey Trot T-shirt he earned and smiled.

“In medicine,” she says, “it’s not just about treating the cancer. It’s about the patient’s quality of life. And in this case, we have a great success story to share.”

“My family and I are thankful every single day,” said Mr.Eller.

As the primary affiliate of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, UH Case Medical Center is a national leader in clinical trials. Physician-scientists led or participated in more than 2,500 clinical trials in 2012, developing and testing advanced therapies, techniques and technology on behalf of patients.

“My family and I are thankful every single day.”

Dennis Eller