For years, Scott Hutchison put off going to the doctor. But as his 70th birthday approached, he had a sudden change of heart.
“I had experienced great health for a number of years,” Scott says. “But something just gnawed at me, that I needed to get in and at least have a physical, which I did.”
Scott could access Marathon Health’s Indianapolis Care Studio network via his employee benefits at Anthem Insurance in Indianapolis, so he scheduled a physical exam at the Care Studio @ PNC.
That’s where he first met Dr. Eric Wallisa.
“I met Eric and liked him a lot,” Scott says. “One thing that caught his eye were two lumps on my neck. I’d had them for 1 to 2 years and was initially told informally by an RN that they were most likely little cysts.”
Dr. Wallisa took a blood draw and told Scott he was concerned about the lumps. They could be harmless, he said, but the lab work would be the “tale of the tape.”
“I said, ‘I’m not asking you to make a judgement without having all the facts, but what do you think it could be?’” Scott says. “He said, ‘Well, it could be a form of a blood disease and, based upon your age, it could be a form of leukemia. But let’s find out.’”
Scott’s physical was on a Friday. On Saturday, he received a startling call from the lab.
“They basically said my white blood cell count was off the charts,” Scott says. “They didn’t tell me the numbers but said I should get in to see my primary care physician immediately, which I was able to do with Eric on Monday. So, the access with Marathon Health is spectacular, and especially in cases like mine.”
Scott’s white blood cell count measured an excess of 250,000 mcL: A normal reading measures 3,400 to 9,600 mcL, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Dr. Wallisa suspected Scott had chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). The next step was to have a hematologist oncologist confirm the results. He gave Scott a list of suggested providers and asked him to let him know once he’d made a decision. Within a week, Marathon Health’s referral coordinator team was able to schedule an appointment for Scott with a hematologist oncologist at Community Hospital in Indianapolis.
“They looked at everything and did their own blood work,” Scott says. “They confirmed the diagnosis of CLL and we discussed an array of treatment options.”
CLL is a form of blood cancer that targets a group of white blood cells called lymphocytes, which help the body fight infection. There is no cure for CLL, but it’s manageable with proper treatment, and patients can live for years with minimal disruption.
Scott began a six-month treatment plan of targeted therapy that included a combination of chemotherapy and medication. Almost immediately, he says his white blood cell count started to fall. And with each subsequent treatment, it ticked even lower.
Scott says his treatments were exhausting, but otherwise, he feels fortunate that he didn’t experience any negative side effects. He didn’t get sick, and he never lost his hair.
After the initial six months, Scott’s white blood count returned to a healthy level, but because CLL isn’t curable, his oncologist gave him a couple of options for going forward. Scott chose to continue his targeted therapy for another 12 months, but they switched to a bi-monthly schedule.
Today, Scott says he’s feeling good and his treatment is going well. A recent CT scan revealed his lymph nodes have returned to normal size. He says he’s grateful to have met Dr. Wallisa — who he credits with saving his life — and he now utilizes him as his primary care physician.
“I call him if I feel anything out of the ordinary because he is just all over it and has given me spectacular guidance,” Scott says. “If I call in, I hear from him that day.”
And even though Scott’s condition has improved dramatically, he says Dr. Wallisa remains as vigilant and proactive as ever.
“During a recent visit, he told me, ‘You dodged a bullet with that diagnosis—which is a great thing, but my job isn’t over. My job is to keep you healthy and make sure that something else doesn’t come along to complicate things, like going forever without a colonoscopy. So, you need to go get a colonoscopy.’”