Ending Matthew's long history of pain

For almost a decade, life for Dover resident Matthew Carrar was frequently disrupted by episodes of unexplained, unbearable abdominal pain. He traveled as far as Philadelphia seeking answers. After numerous trips to the emergency room, test results consistently returned normal, and Carrar was told by several physicians he had nothing more than a sensitive stomach.

Carrar feared he would have to learn to live with chronic pain. It wasn’t until he sought a second opinion with Bayhealth Gastroenterologist Gautamy Chitiki Dhadham, MD, that he finally found an answer, and what would end up being a life-changing diagnosis.

In May 2017, Dr. Dhadham performed diagnostic tests on Carrar called an Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS) with fine-needle aspiration and Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). EUS is the new diagnostic test to stage various gastrointestinal cancers and also obtain tissue diagnosis; it’s a novel and minimally invasive test.

Bayhealth Gastroentrologist Dr. Guatamy Chitiki DhadhamA bendable lighted tube is placed through the mouth to reach the stomach and first part of the small intestine. The procedure assists in the diagnosis of diseases of the gallbladder, biliary system, pancreas, and liver. Before Dr. Dhadham joined Bayhealth in 2015, patients had to travel out of state for this test.

The result of the tests confirmed that Carrar, only 35 years old, had stage 3 pancreatic cancer.

Carrar’s story leading up to the traumatic cancer diagnosis began in spring 2010. “I woke up one morning and thought I was having a bad case of heartburn,” he said. “Over-the-counter medication wasn’t working and the pain progressed throughout the day. I decided to go to the emergency room.”

A CAT scan and MRI performed at Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus showed a mass on the bile duct of Carrar’s gallbladder. The emergency room physician referred Carrar to a medical center in Philadelphia for advanced testing not available in Delaware.

The physicians in Philadelphia did another MRI, and concluded the mass was no longer there. “The doctors said there wasn’t a mass, but my stomach was inflamed and causing the pain,” he said. “I trusted what they were saying was accurate. They gave me medication for the pain and sent me home.”

It wasn’t long after his trip to Philadelphia that the pain returned. “Between April and June 2010, I was in and out of the emergency room five times,” he said. “Every test was coming back saying there was nothing wrong.” He began to accept frequent pain as an ever-present obstacle in life and avoided future visits to the emergency room when symptoms flared.

By July 2010, Carrar described the pain as so excruciating that his wife Holly insisted they go to the hospital. “The physicians ran the same tests and discovered my gallbladder was bad,” Carrar said. “I had surgery to remove the gallbladder and the pain was gone for a while after that.” He enjoyed a few years pain-free post-surgery, but it was only temporary.

Carrar works for the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center and occasionally has to escort prisoners to Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus. During one of the visits, he shared his history of pain with a staff member. She recommended he call Dr. Dhadham for a second opinion.

“One morning I was having a little pain so I called Dr. Dhadham’s office,” Carrar said. “I was surprised she was able to see me that day.” Dr. Dhadham scheduled an MRI and a hepatobiliary (HIDA) scan, an imaging procedure used to diagnose problems of the liver, gallbladder, and bile ducts.

The results revealed another mass on his pancreas. “Dr. Dhadham said I would need further tests,” Carrar said. “Only this time I didn’t have to go out of town because Dr. Dhadham was able to do it.”

Dr. Dhadham scheduled the EUS and ERCP and confirmed the diagnosis of stage 3 pancreatic cancer. “I heard the words but it didn’t really set in as reality for about a week,” Carrar said. “No one wants to hear those words, but I tried to stay positive. I said to myself, ‘OK, this is real and I am going to beat it.’”

Dr. Dhadham referred Carrar to a hospital in Baltimore for a complex advanced surgery called the Whipple procedure. The operation is used to treat pancreatic cancer by removing part of the pancreas and part of the small intestine. Carrar had the surgery in March 2017 and was relieved to hear his margins were clear and that the surgeon was confident he removed all of the cancer.

Since the surgery was a success, Carrar didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

Recovery from the surgery was tough. He returned home very weak after a nine-day hospital stay. He wasn’t able to consume much more than chicken broth for almost six weeks. During this time, he lost 42 pounds and needed assistance from his wife for everything from showering to eating. Carrar’s energy eventually improved and he slowly returned to his normal self.

Living pain-free and enjoying life again, Carrar has planned vacations and spends more time outdoors than ever. “I’m so thankful to Dr. Dhadham,” he said. “No other doctor could figure out what was going on. She saved my life; I don’t like to think what could have happened to me if it weren’t for her.” 

To schedule an appointment at Bayhealth Gastroenterology at their Dover or Milford locations, call 302-393-5006.