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HeadLines - A Family Bond Beyond the Usual

HeadLines Winter 2013

A Family Bond Beyond the Usual

Date: December 12, 2012

When patient Sylvia Rinaldi (right) needed special care, Hopkins head and neck surgeon Nishant Agrawal was able to help.
When patient Sylvia Rinaldi (right) needed special care, Hopkins head and neck surgeon Nishant Agrawal was able to help.

Joseph Rinaldi first met head and neck surgeon Nishant Agrawal in May 2010 when he took his mother, Sylvia, to Johns Hopkins. She had cancer of the palate. The independent 87-year-old had always been healthy, so the cancer came as a surprise. But because they’d caught it early, her case was a simple one—Agrawal was able to remove it completely with surgery.

As he continued to bring his mother in for follow-up visits, Rinaldi began to forge a bond with Agrawal over a shared vision of how they viewed their careers. “Even though our jobs are very different, we both put our clients first,” says Rinaldi, who works as a financial advisor and CIO for Quantum Financial Advisors, Inc., in Washington D.C. “Helping people is a way of life.”

The two became close friends, with their families meeting for dinner from time to time. Then, nearly two years after their initial meeting, a crisis strengthened their friendship even more.

In March of this year, Sylvia started coughing up blood and was rushed to a nearby hospital. When Rinaldi got the call, doctors told him that his mother had gastric cancer—and needed immediate surgery. But Rinaldi says he and his mother weren’t sure whether to proceed. They wanted a PET scan to see if the cancer had spread.

The hospital didn’t have the equipment to do the scan, however, and to get a prescription to do it elsewhere, Rinaldi was told that he’d need to first sign a release discharging his mother against doctor’s orders. Frustrated, he called Agrawal, who quickly arranged for Sylvia  to be transferred to Hopkins for further evaluation and treatment.

The scan showed that Sylvia’s cancer was still localized. With that information, Joseph says, she chose to have surgery in April. “Dr. Agrawal’s humanistic approach allowed my mother to make an informed decision that may extend her life for years,” he says.

Grateful for Agrawal’s assistance with his mother, Rinaldi says he then realized that he could aid Agrawal in helping many more people. Agrawal had often spoken of his research on the genetics of head and neck cancer. Public funding for medical research has tightened in recent years, restricting progress.

After donating $5,000 to Agrawal’s research, Rinaldi also sent a letter to friends and clients encouraging them to contribute as well. Within weeks, he’d raised nearly $7,000 more.

This private funding, Agrawal says, will help him accomplish goals that would be difficult using money only from the National Institutes of Health and other public funding agencies. “It opens doors for us that wouldn’t be open any other way,” Agrawal says. 

“Everything we do, including our research, revolves around our patients,” Agrawal adds. “Patients, like Sylvia, make our work against cancer even more real.”

Rinaldi will focus on a second round of fund raising for Agrawal in late November. He hopes that faced with increased tax rates in 2013 and year-end giving, more people will increase their level of contributions.

Information: 443-287-2124

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