News / Ottawa

Ontario reverses course on experimental cancer surgery

Decision comes too late for ex-Rough Rider linebacker Rick Sowieta, who has already crowdfunded $65,000 to seek treatment in Germany.

Former Ottawa Rough Rider Rick Sowieta will be receiving pancreatic-cancer treatment in Germany.


Former Ottawa Rough Rider Rick Sowieta will be receiving pancreatic-cancer treatment in Germany.

After years of growing criticism, Ontario will soon dust off an experimental cancer-surgery machine and test a technology hailed for its efficacy in tackling severe pancreatic cancer.

Ottawa football veteran Rick Sowieta leaves for Germany Thursday, for a February 23 surgery thanks to a crowdfunding effort.

“It’s obviously too late for myself, but for others it’s a great ray of hope,” Sowieta told Metro. At least a dozen Ontarians have sought the procedure abroad, called irreversible electroporation. Also known as NanoKnife, the surgery uses electric prongs to destroy cancer cells.


Ontario’s health ministry said Tuesday it would start using the NanoKnife owned by Toronto’s University Health Network to treat complex pancreatic cancer. Previously, it was only used on liver tumours.

A month ago, the ministry said the evidence of NanoKnife’s efficacy was limited.

Hector Macmillan, mayor of Trent Hills, Ont., had loudly criticized the province ever since his $60,000 surgery in Germany last October, covered by crowdfunding.

“Better late than never,” said Macmillan, who feels he skirted “a death sentence” from the province. “I’m glad to hear that our government does listen.”

The $2.1-million pilot project starts this spring, with a NanoKnife surgery for 33 patients, and 33 others receiving treatment through a conventional radiotherapy treatment.

That’s a positive sign for Sowieta, who had a decade-long career as a linebacker for the Ottawa Rough Riders, the Redblacks’ predecessor.

Since leaving football, he has run marathons and launched restaurants. But a bout of jaundice landed him in the hospital, where doctors diagnosed him with “inoperable” Stage 3 pancreatic cancer. Friends convinced him to crowdfund, and he surpassed his $65,000 request.

Both Macmillan and Sowieta lament that politicians and star athletes have better chances with fundraising than average Ontarians.

“So I’m going to come back, get stable and fight for other people,” Sowieta said.

With files from Torstar News Service

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