By Amy E. Hamaker
Glen Miller could never have guessed that a 15-year-old X-ray from a snowmobile accident would lead him to the USC doctor who would change his life.
“Other than a busted ego, I was basically fine after the accident,” said Miller, CEO of Diversified Financial Management Corp. and one of the founders of the Glen and Wendy Miller Family Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation located in Bannockburn, Ill.
The X-ray became important again, years later when Miller’s doctor found a growth on his kidney after prostate problems. “You can see the growth on the old X-ray, although the emergency room staff hadn’t been looking at my kidneys at the time,” he said.
Miller’s doctor was able to see the growth’s development using the old X-ray and a series of new MRIs, and determined that a specialist was needed to remove it — “…hopefully just the growth.”
Through Lauren Izaks, a friend of his daughter, Miller was put in contact with Inderbir Gill, chairman of the Catherine and Joseph Aresty Department of Urology and founding executive director of the USC Institute of Urology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. Quite by coincidence, Gill had successfully removed a growth on that friend’s kidney two years earlier.
“When my wife, Wendy, and I met Dr. Gill, he was wonderfully warm and personable, even though we were total strangers,” Miller recalled. “He cupped my hand with his and said, ‘You’ve come to the right place.’ He showed us exactly how he was going to get the tumor. He told Wendy and me that he was quite confident that he could remove the tumor and leave the rest of my left kidney fully functional. I’ve never had a doctor treat me with such empathy and care.”
Gill was able to find and access the tumor, and after seven and a half hours of laparoscopic surgery, Miller was in recovery from successful tumor removal surgery. Gill indeed was able to remove the entirety of the tumor, leaving the margins clean and 80 percent of Miller’s left kidney intact.
“Six days later, with the biopsy in hand, Dr. Gill’s associate, Daniel Park, told me, my wife and my daughter that the operation had been ‘curative’ and that I was cancer free. You cannot imagine the joy and relief we all felt.”
It was this experience that prompted a recent $600,000 gift from the Glen and Wendy Miller Family Foundation to help start a new center in cooperation with the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. The Glen and Wendy Miller/Inderbir Gill Kidney Cancer Research Program will explore a variety of noninvasive and minimally invasive technologies for diagnosing kidney cancer, and will be led by Gill.
“Our USC urology team has worked tirelessly to improve the diagnosis and treatment of kidney cancer, and this generous gift will allow us to make a real difference in improving patients’ lives,” Gill said. “Glen is an amazing person, and through his generosity he’s given an amazing gift to other patients.”
There are many different types of kidney masses, and telling the difference between those that are benign and those that are cancerous can be challenging, especially if they’re small. Current evaluation methods can be inaccurate or inconclusive, leading to the possibility of unnecessary surgeries for patients with benign tumors — nearly 40,000 patients nationwide with a newly detected small renal mass go into the operating room each year without a clear-cut diagnosis.
To improve the diagnosis of kidney masses, Gill and his team will build upon existing expertise in electrical impedance analyses (a measure of the opposition to the flow of an electric current through body tissues); micro-bubble enhanced ultrasonography (using an enhanced contrast agent); and high-flow spectrometry (a method of determining the presence of and changes to discrete proteins).
In addition, Gill and his team are working to identify DNA methylation markers that can improve the diagnostic value of noninvasive renal needle biopsies. Proper DNA methylation is crucial to regulating how the body’s cells develop and function.
“Dr. Gill is dedicated to his science and to his patients, and I wanted to help empower him to continue his outstanding work,” said Miller. “I wanted to do something so that 10 years from now when the next Glen Miller comes in, Dr. Gill can do something miraculous for him like he did for me and my entire family.”