When you’re 17 and an athlete, you’re used to a little pain here and there. In 2017, Tai Wong wasn’t just any old athlete; a Rego Park high school student, he was ranked among the fastest triathletes in his age group in New York state. But there was something about the way his knees began to hurt when he was running stairs during training that didn’t seem right, so he headed to his primary care doctor.
Tai’s future beckoned. He needed to clear up the pain to get there.
But when his doctor took a look at the X-rays, he sent Tai to see Howard Goodman, MD, an orthopedic oncologist at Northwell Health Physician Partners Orthopaedic Institute at Great Neck. The diagnosis came as a shock: Tai had a 6-centimeter tumor at the top of his tibia, the larger of the lower-leg bones that connects to the knee. It was cancer—an osteosarcoma.
The news was devastating. “It was a hard time,” Tai says, “but there was something special about Dr. Goodman. The hospital gives you confidence. They make you relax because they do an amazing job.”
An amazing job was just what Tai needed. Osteosarcoma treatment can be complex—doctors are trying to save both the patient’s limb and his life. Tai would need surgery to remove the tumor, chemotherapy to kill off any remaining cancer cells and, finally, therapy to get back in shape.
Tai’s doctors called on a blend of clinical expertise, sophisticated medical imaging and precision modeling to treat him. Using high-tech tools, they took detailed images of Tai’s anatomy and created a 3D model of his leg, including the tumor, so Dr. Goodman could plan his moves in the operating room before he even picked up a scalpel. “Having the model allowed me to concretely visualize the surgery,” he says.
Northwell’s cutting-edge approach to modeling allows doctors to tailor treatments to each patient’s unique anatomy. “For complex cases, we can simulate surgery before you actually come in,” says Todd Goldstein, PhD, director of the health system’s 3D Design and Innovation Laboratory. “This technology allows doctors to plan it, see it, feel it, live it before they get to surgery.”