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An ER visit reveals chordoma, a rare cancer

Neurosurgeon uses a 3D model to prepare for a 19-hour procedure.

When 66-year-old Frank DiTaranto of Lewisburg went to the ER with neck pain, numbness and trouble balancing, tests revealed a rare type of cancer that occurs in the spine and the base of the skull: chordoma.

A neurosurgeon well-versed in chordoma

Geisinger neurosurgeon Sanjay Konakondla, MD, who trained under a world-renowned spinal oncologist, knew right away that Mr. DiTaranto’s case was extremely complex — but something he could help with.

Mr. DiTaranto’s tumor was in the high cervical spine area of his neck. Removing it would be a technical challenge because of how close it was to arteries of the neck, nerves, discs, bone, the trachea and the esophagus.

And it needed to be removed whole.

“You have to take the tumor out without getting into the tumor,” Dr. Konakondla explains. “If you get into the tumor, you have cancer cells spilling out into the surgical area and it has a much higher rate of recurrence.”

To prepare for the surgery, Dr. Konakondola turned to Geisinger’s 3D imaging and printing lab.

Using a 3D printed model to plan a complex surgery

Using sophisticated technology, Geisinger’s 3D imaging and printing lab creates 3D printed replicas of a patient’s true anatomy. In Mr. DiTaranto’s case, the model captured the tumor as well as his spine, airway, esophagus and the arteries in his neck. And that helped Dr. Konakondla plan out the actual procedure — which took about 19 hours to complete.

The surgery was a success and Mr. DiTaranto recovered quickly. Now, almost 2 years later, he feels terrific and says he’s extremely grateful.

“Dr. Konakondla saved my life,” he says. “I told my wife I felt good about him from the beginning. God put him there and I knew everything was going to be fine.”

In fact, he and his surgeon continue to keep in touch. “He’s part of my family now,” Mr. DiTaranto says. “I sent a letter to the doctor who trained him. I said, ‘You did a great job with Dr. Sanjay Konakondla.’ He’s not only a great surgeon, but a great man, too.”

Next steps:

Read and watch more stories
Meet Sanjay Konakondla, MD
Learn about neurosurgery at Geisinger

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