Published: February 12, 2014
To give his patients the individual attention they need from their surgeon, Dr. Juan Sanabria’s day at Cancer Treatment Centers of America starts at 6 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m.
Sanabria, an experienced surgical oncologist, recently moved to Gurnee when he joined CTCA at Midwestern Regional Medical Center in Zion. He offers advanced treatment options for gastrointestinal malignancies.
Originally from Bogotá, Columbia, Sanabria earned his medical degree from the Colegio Mayor de Ntra Sra del Rosario in addition to completing the MD International Medical Graduate Program at the University of Toronto, St. Michael’s Hospital, and completing several fellowships at other hospitals.
Sanabria is an active member of the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons and has authored many manuscripts. He previously served as the Director of Pancreas Transplant at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.
Sanabria talked with Gurnee Suburban Life reporter Jesse Carpender about his new role.
Why did you decide to work at CTCA?
Sanabria: When I was a researcher, I got a senior leadership award and went to Washington to accept it. The keynote speaker was my boss seven years ago, Edgar Staren, who is now working as the national director of Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
He’s a guy I really respect and he asked if he could offer me a job as a transplant surgeon with opportunities to do a lot of good stuff. There aren’t a lot of programs for surgeons, and research is being cut. I accepted and I love the environment, the people and what they’re working toward here.
What impressed you about CTCA?
Sanabria: The people are kind and do their best to please the patients. All the therapies are cutting edge. We can do robotic surgery which is available in very few centers. Our breast reconstructive program is very comprehensive. Anyone coming here can feel we’re doing better or on par with MD Anderson Medical Cancer Center at Houston and Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center (the top cancer treatment centers in the world).
What makes your job meaningful to you?
Sanabria: Helping people brings meaning to my life. There’s satisfaction in doing what you want to do with your life. I came from a large comprehensive cancer center. The difference here is we have fellows and residents (practitioners). In here the attending (surgeon) has direct communication all the time with patients and a lot of one on one time with patients.
How did you become interested in gastrointestinal malignancies?
Sanabria: It was the people I know – When you’re surrounded by people whose expertise is in a certain area, you end up knowing more about it and realize you’re embedded. My mentors in Coloumbia – including Jose Patino, Professor of Surgery at Fundacion Santa Fe de Bogota and Andes Medical Center, Andes University School of Medicine – did my support in liver surgeries and learned to talk the lingo.
What do your mentors have in common?
Sanabria: All of them are great guys as a people who pursue excellence. They are not only outstanding doctors, but outstanding husbands and fathers. Some taught me how to smoke a cigar or drink wine, others taught me how to save my marriage from the disturbances that come with this work because we work so much. That’s when you need a mentor to make you the best person ever.
What are the challenges of the surgeries you perform?
Sanabria: The most challenging part is that many patients come in quite late, with advanced cancer. By the time they see us, treatment options are reduced. When it’s too advanced, we emphasize providing a path to let them go in a good and dignified way.
How can people monitor their intestinal health?
Sanabria: For prevention, if something unusual happens, talk to your doctor. If you’re losing weight, have night sweats, your bowel habits changed – don’t wait until you can’t wait anymore. Many people put it on hold because they’re scared it’s cancer. But if something happened early to detect it, it would be good for me (as your doctor).
What do you want people to know about CTCA?
Sanabria: CTCA has the Diversity Multicultural Inclusive Initiative, and it’s important to include people of all nationalities (in a medical setting). People of different nationalities may think they will be discriminated against at different hospitals, but at CTCA every patient is important to us.