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Scottsdale spine surgeon on a mission to save pastor's life

Scottsdale spine surgeon on a mission to save pastor's life

Thanks to a twist of fate, Dr. Duane Pitt is working to raise money to provide a pastor in the Dominican Republic with emergency care that will save him from inevitable paralysis and neurological damage.

by Kaley O'Kelley

Posted on May 19, 2011 at 7:44 PM

Updated Monday, May 23 at 4:33 PM

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It was the Sunday before Easter when Dr. Duane Pitt was about to return to Phoenix from the Dominican Republic.

He had just finished a spine and scoliosis clinic.

Pitt is an orthopedic spine surgeon who practices in Scottsdale. As part of the International Surgical Foundation, the physician regularly makes trips to the Dominican Republic, volunteering his time and his services to see patients in desperate need of spine care in the Caribbean country.

It was on that day in April when something unexpected lead to a chain of potentially life-saving events for another man.

Pitt’s flight was delayed leaving him stranded in the Dominican Republic for 24 hours.

Trying to figure out how the long wait would be spent, the surgeon was introduced to the pastor of a church who had complained of feeling a sense of weakness in his left arm. The man had spent the last three weeks in bed.

After spending more time hearing about the man's discomfort, Pitt soon learned the pastor had been diagnosed with a possible fracture in his neck by a local spine surgeon.

The man was then mistakenly told it could be sickle cell anemia and was referred to see a hematologist.

With time to kill, thanks to the 24-hour delay, Pitt offered to evaluate the pastor.

After a closer look at an MRI, Pitt was able to see a clear metastatic cancer malignancy impinging on the man’s spinal cord. This explained the weakness in the pastor’s arm. The doctor didn’t take long to explain the man’s condition to his family, explained that he was at risk of becoming paralyzed from the neck down.

Upset by the news, the family wasted no time seeking three separate medical opinions. All three physicians confirmed Pitt’s diagnosis.

Right now, the pastor is able to walk on his own, but without proper treatment he will lose that ability. In danger of paralysis and permanent neurologic damage, he is in need of emergency medical care.

Now back home, Pitt’s goal is to raise enough money to fund this life-saving surgery.

Pitt and his team at the International Surgical Foundation have already arranged for the donation of medical service and facilities, the necessary spine hardware and implants, neuromonitoring and surgical services.

While the procedure theoretically can be performed in Santiago, it's not the best scenario. Pitt and his team agree that it would be best all around if the surgery could be done here in Arizona. To do that, they have to get the pastor here, and that's where you come in.

Pitt says a donation as small as $10 can be pooled with others to help pay for an air ambulance. ISF has arranged for a discount, but it's still costly -- $35,000. It's expensive, but it's not insurmountable -- not if we work together.

For more information on this case or to donate, visit When you click the "Click here to donate now" button, you will be taken to a secure PayPal site to complete your dontation. Pitt said that for the next few weeks (at least), all donations made to ISF will be directed to the pastor's case.