By Caroline Song

Beacon Journal published the article, “Woman with rare cancer fighting insurer to cover transplant” on March 9, 2014, written by their medical writer, Cheryl Powell. The story centers on Jeanne Ralston-Astalos’s struggle to obtain coverage from her insurance provider for a liver transplant. From Northfield, Ohio, the 50-year-old mother of two suffers from an extremely rare form of cancer. Ralston-Astalos first discovered something was wrong in July of 2011. Her abdomen began swelling and during a routine checkup her physician ordered a CT scan. A later liver biopsy confirmed cancer, but the origin was undetermined. Ten years prior, Ralston-Astalos overcame breast cancer, but tests confirmed that the prior cancer was not related to her current diagnosis.  Ralston-Astalos underwent multiple surgeries to remove portions of cysts on her liver and had a drain inserted to help remove fluid buildup.

In February of 2012, Ralston-Astalos visited the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas where they determined that her cancer had actually started in her sinus cavities. The cancer, which is known as ameloblastoma, usually stays within the sinus cavities. No cases exist in the literature where patients suffering from ameloblastoma had the cancer spread elsewhere in their body. In September of 2012, Ralston-Astalos had the roof of her mouth, half her jawbone, teeth, and most of her sinus cavity removed at MD Anderson. Subsequent testing has determined that no cancer remains in her sinuses or elsewhere in her body, except for her liver. Several surgical attempts have been made to remove the tumors, but were not successful. Even the implantation of radiation beads in to the liver failed to reduce the tumor size.

The Ohio Solid Organ Transplantation Consortium, a statewide group monitoring possible cases, approved Ralston-Astalos as a liver transplant candidate. Despite garnering an approval, the surgery was put on hold because of Ralston-Astalos’s insurance provider. Medical Mutual stated in a letter to Ralston-Astalos that based on the review from their chief medical officer and an independent general surgeon, the liver transplant procedure is considered experimental due to the lack of data for patients suffering from metastatic ameloblastoma that have undergone a liver transplant.  Even Ralston-Astalos’s secondary insurance provider, Medicare has not committed to the transplant.

As of today, friends of Ralston-Astalos, are trying to fundraise to help cover the cost of surgery. Information can be found on jeannetransplant.wix.com/jeanne-ralston-astalos-fund and donations being accepted at any Fifth Third Bank for the Jeanne Ralston Fund.

Read more here.