By Paul Rodarte
In 2013, my wife, Rachelle Burkett-Rodarte, the artist for the 1996 Summer Olympics, went for a CT scan as a result of a fall. She had had a bone growth stimulator placed inside her with wires attached at various areas in her back. The emergency room doctor told her that the stimulator and wires were all still attached. However, he failed to mention that there were nodules located in her upper right lung. Rachelle’s orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Nicholas Grimaldi, ordered a more detailed CAT scan. She was seen several times in the following months by her primary care nurse practitioner, Amy Greene, who had ordered a series of scans. In less than a year, the nodules had more than doubled in size. She was eventually sent to Dr. Jason Budde, a thoracic surgeon at Blount Memorial Hospital.
Dr. Budde grew up in Chicago, moved to Atlanta to attend Emory School of Medicine and then relocated to the Great Smoky Mountains two years ago with his wife, Dr. Laura Yount, and daughter Anna. To date, he has seen roughly 400 cancer patients at Blount Memorial. However, Rachelle was his first patient after moving to the Smokies. When asked what inspired him to become a thoracic surgeon, his answer was Hawkeye Pierce from the sitcom “M*A*S*H.”
She had been seen several times in the previous two months and the nodules had more than doubled in size. On a Thursday in February 2014, Dr. Budde informed her that a biopsy was required in order to know the best course of action. On Friday, he ordered a PET scan. It was then immediately decided that a biopsy was needed as soon as possible.
Monday morning came and the biopsy was performed. The pathology report was unusually fast that day and after careful review, Dr. Budde decided that it was necessary to remove the nodules, as it was malignant lung cancer.
He then had to make a decisive decision. All schedules were cleared for the eight hour surgery. With such a dangerous diagnosis, he made certain that not even insurance providers would interfere.
He used video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) cameras to minimize scarring. As a bonus, every hour he personally let me know how the procedure was coming along.
After the surgery was completed, Dr. Budde informed me that she would be moved to the intensive care unit and would likely be fine. There were no complications and Rachelle was out of the hospital in five days.
I will be forever grateful for Dr. Budde saving my wife’s life. No other doctor in our area would take Rachelle because of her insurance, even though it would have been fatal if she had not received treatment. A year-and-a-half later, she is not showing signs of slowing down and appears to have fully recovered.
Dr. Budde is still at Blount Memorial helping those in need of his special care.