“Dr. Sorbi saved my life.” For Barbara Varbero, it is as simple as that. In reality, her story is a complex tale involving an extremely rare tumor, a long and painful road to diagnosis, and ten years that she never thought she would live to see.
Barbara’s story began in 2009, when she started to experience excruciating pain and vomiting whenever she would eat. It didn’t matter what, when or how much she ate. She could barely tolerate a sip of water. She would double over in pain and vomit every time she tried take in food or liquids.
Naturally, she sought medical help. Her primary care physician sent her to a gastroenterologist. Having trained as a registered nurse and having worked in the emergency department of two hospitals in northern Suffolk County, Barbara knew which doctors were highly regarded and she sought them out. She underwent countless diagnostic tests: colonoscopies, endoscopies, scans, and more. She saw one specialist after another. They ran more tests and prescribed pain medications, but no one could figure out what was wrong.
After 10 agonizing months, Barbara had lost 90 pounds. A former nurse, she was so weak that she could no longer drive herself to doctors’ appointments and had to stop working.
“I knew that I was dying,” she remembers.
That summer, she was invited to a graduation party for the child of a good friend. Deciding to attend that party started the chain of events that ultimately did in fact save her life. The party’s host, Fran, had invited many friends and family members, including her sister, Marianne Jorgensen, RN, administrator of Island Endoscopy Center. Marianne hadn’t seen Barbara in a while, and she was visibly shocked by Barbara’s gaunt appearance. She suggested that Barbara make an appointment with Darius Sorbi, MD, one of the physicians at Island Gastroenterology Consultants in West Islip. “What do you have to lose?” Barbara remembers Marianne asking her.
Armed with loads of medical records and test results, Barbara soon found herself in Dr. Sorbi’s exam room. He immediately ordered two tests she had not yet had: an octreotide scan and a capsule endoscopy.
Having completed his gastroenterology fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, Dr. Sorbi has experience with rare and complex conditions that many other gastroenterologists have never seen. The diagnostic tests he ordered confirmed what he suspected when he first met Barbara; she had a neuroendocrine tumor close to a mesenteric artery that supplies the blood to the small intestine. In short, a portion of her small intestine was dying because it lacked blood supply. Food was completely unable to pass through the area.
“Even with my nursing background, I had never heard of it,” said Barbara. Dr. Sorbi referred her to surgeon Edward Cusatti, MD. At Good Samaritan Hospital, he performed the procedure to remove 95% of the tumor. Pathology tests confirmed that the remaining cells were extremely slow-growing and would require no additional immediate treatment.
Barbara continues to be monitored closely by Dr. Sorbi. Over the past ten years she has been able to return to work, swim in her apartment complex’s pool all summer, and dote on 4-year-old (name), her partner’s granddaughter whom she watches two days a week. She and (name), the love of her life, have taken a vacation to Aruba, and they enjoy long walks together.
Simple pleasures have taken on added significance. Eating a chicken Cesar salad, her favorite meal, is a joy that Barbara does not take for granted.
For Barbara, finding Dr. Sorbi meant so much more than being referred to the right doctor at the right time.
“Finding him was a kind of spiritual experience for me,” she said. “It turned out to be a whole lot more than just a doctor’s appointment, and he turned out to be a whole lot more than just another gastroenterologist. He is a blessing; he truly saved my life.”