Vandalia, MO Cancer Patient Beats Odds With New Immunotherapy Treatment at Hannibal Regional.


Jim Lierheimer, 88 of Vandalia, Missouri used to get his healthcare in either Mexico, MO or Columbia.  After the hospital in Mexico closed he and his wife Doris decided to give Hannibal Regional a chance and it’s a decision they are thrilled that they made.  “At those other places, we felt like we were just a number.  Here at Hannibal Regional, we are treated like family!”

In August of 2022, Jim bent over and experienced a sudden loss of breath. It was so severe that his wife brought him to the emergency room at Hannibal Regional.  His right lung had partially collapsed and had several liters of fluid that needed to be drained.  Dr. Podbielski drained the fluid and performed biopsies with Jim spending 16 days in the hospital; he became quite fond of the nurses and Dr. Podbielski, who was treating the fluid buildup in his lung.  “One weekend Dr. Podbielski went out of town for the day and returned around 10:30 pm on Saturday.  He made a point to come by the hospital and check on me.  To me, that’s how you treat family not just a patient.”  Jim says that Dr. Podbielski would always be sure to speak with Doris to make sure she was updated on Jim’s condition and if she wasn’t at the hospital when he came to see Jim, he would return to be sure that he was able to speak with Doris as well.

It was ultimately determined that Jim has Mesothelioma, a cancer of the thin tissue that lines the lung and chest wall.  The major risk factor for mesothelioma is asbestos exposure.  There is no cure for Mesothelioma and the average life expectancy is 12-24 months after diagnosis.  Once Jim was released from the hospital he almost immediately met with Dr. Palka, Oncologist at Hannibal Regional Cancer Institute to discuss his treatment options.  “I asked him to be honest with me about how long I had to live, and he told me only a few months, with treatment maybe an extra month.”  The typical treatment for this type of cancer is chemotherapy, but Dr. Palka asked Jim if he would be willing to try a newer, milder treatment option, involving a combination of two immunotherapy drugs.  After weighing the side effects of chemotherapy and the unknown outcome of the new treatment, Jim and his wife decided that he would be better off trying immunotherapy.

Eleven months later Jim has received 11 treatments and says that he feels great, other than just a little tired after infusion days.  More importantly, CT scans have shown a dramatic response to treatment! He only has to come into the Cancer Institute for an hour-long infusion once every three weeks.  “We love coming here, everyone is always smiling and so happy to help. And Dr. Palka is just such a fun guy.  He takes the time to sit with us and visit as if we were family.”  Jim says the personal connection he has made at Hannibal Regional has made treating his cancer so much easier.