April 11, 2017

When life comes full circle

Laura Crawford was 14 years old when she was diagnosed with oral cancer. Thirty years later, she works for the same organization as the doctor who saved her life.

When Laura Crawford was 14 years old, she went to her dentist for a routine check-up. However, none of the events that followed were routine.

Her dentist noticed a mass in the back of her mouth and urged her and her family to get it checked out. After being evaluated by two oral surgeons, who both believed it was a cyst and “nothing to worry about,” her dentist persisted and she was referred to an otolaryngologist — a doctor who specializes in ear, nose, and throat — at Kaiser Permanente Anaheim in Southern California.

photo of Laura Crawford as a teenager in her high school AFJROTC uniform
Laura Crawford as a teenager in her high school Air Force Junior ROTC uniform.

That specialist ordered a biopsy and, 10 days later, delivered a shocking diagnosis: mouth cancer. Laura underwent extensive oral surgery and had follow-up appointments for a few years. She has not had a recurrence since that initial diagnosis nearly 30 years ago.

But Laura’s connection with Kaiser Permanente doesn’t end there. Partly because of that life-changing experience, she grew up to be a hospice nurse. In June of 2016, she started as a quality improvement and compliance coordinator in home health and hospice for Group Health in the state of Washington, which was acquired by Kaiser Permanente in February.

As a new Kaiser Permanente employee, Laura opened up her first employee email newsletter and was intrigued by news of the Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine. When Laura clicked on the link, she blurted out, “No way!” Staring back at her was a picture of Marc Klau, MD, the otolaryngologist who saved her life all those years ago.

photo of Dr. Marc Klau
Marc Klau, MD

“Dr. Klau was incredibly knowledgeable and made me feel like he really cared about me as a person and the outcome of the surgery,” Laura recalled. “One very important thing was that he chose to do the least invasive surgery possible and by doing so, I have little to no evidence that I ever had oral cancer.”

“He was the physician who followed me through the three years of follow-up appointments,” she added. “Although I am sure there were other qualified physicians in the Anaheim office, he made sure that he was the one who always checked the status of my mouth for any evidence of regrowth.”

Dr. Klau continues to see patients in Anaheim, and is now a medical leader with the Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine. He said he is touched when he hears from former patients such as Laura.

“Because of my experience with Dr. Klau, his staff, and Kaiser Permanente as a whole, I chose to go into nursing,” said Laura. “I originally went into nursing school with the intent of becoming an oncology nurse because of my cancer experience, but quickly realized that hospice was where I belonged. I was very lucky that my cancer was diagnosed and treated early enough that I was still here on this earth, so this was my way of giving back for being so lucky.”

“If it hadn’t been for Dr. Klau, I don’t know if I would even be here to be a nurse today.”