Dr. Amy J. Reed, mother to six children, physician, and cancer patient who used her illness to fight for other women, died last week in her home in Yardley, Pa. The cause of death was leiomyosarcoma of the uterus, a type of cancer. She was 44.
An anesthesiologist by trade, Reed underwent “surgery involving morcellation in 2013, when, at 40, she had her uterus removed because of fibroids. The operation was performed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School, where both Dr. Reed and Dr. Noorchashm had teaching positions. A biopsy after the operation found that Dr. Reed had a hidden leiomyosarcoma, an aggressive type of cancer.”
However, it wasn’t until after her surgery that she and her husband found out that her surgeon had used a power morcellator (a spinning blade that slices up tissue so it can be extracted through small incisions) to cut up her uterus. While the device does allow doctors to work with smaller incisions, so patients can heal faster and run less risk of bleeding and infection, it also has the potential to spread cancer. And in her case, it did, an advanced, Stage 4 cancer.1
At that time, morcellation was being performed on 50,000 women a year in the United States for a number of reasons.
Understanding the grave situation she had been left with, Dr. Reed and her husband fought hard for years to have the tool banned. Although the device is regarded as a great help, any benefits far outweigh the serious risks. And no one was telling the women getting these surgeries about the great risks. Including Dr. Reed.
“Because of their efforts, the Food and Drug Administration studied morcellation and in 2014 recommended that it not be used in the “the vast majority” of women having surgery for uterine fibroids, a common tumor that is usually benign but that can hide a dangerous type of cancer.
Some insurers began declining coverage for morcellation, and one major manufacturer took its morcellators off the market. Use of the technique dropped.”2
Dr. Reed embarked on a series of aggressive treatments while fighting the medical establishment to ban morcellation, but Reed continued to suffer one recurrence after another, in her abdomen, lungs, and spine. She would also have several major operations and difficult courses of chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy and experimental treatment.3
Dr. Noorchashm also collected the names and histories of women whose cancer had spread after morcellation, including one in the same town, and at the same hospital.4
Sadly, their activism alienated some colleagues and even burned their bridges at Harvard (where they had both taught):
“At one point, when Dr. Reed needed to return to Brigham and Women’s for a medical procedure, she and Dr. Noorchashm were stunned to find that the hospital had assigned a guard to inspect their bags and escort them at all times, for security reasons. Dr. Noorchashm called a lawyer. A judge put a stop to the escort, issuing a restraining order against the hospital.”5
Before 2013, the FDA didn’t have reports of uterine cancers being spread by morcellators but that all changed once Dr. Reed and her husband went public; reports began to pour in and by September 2016, the agency had received 285 reports of uterine cancer being spread by morcellation.
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We are so sorry for the great loss of Dr. Reed. Our hearts go out to her husband, children, family, and friends. Thank you so much for your hard work, it was not done in vain.