Emil Infusino met registered nurse Vickie Beckler, lung screening program coordinator for Marietta-based WellStar, when Beckler came to look at Infusino’s house last year in Paulding County. When Beckler’s real estate agent couldn’t make it, Infusino stepped in and showed Beckler the property himself.
When Beckler noticed the Navy cap that Infusino, 65, was wearing, she asked him if he could help spread the word about a Veteran’s Day lung cancer screening event WellStar was hosting. But Infusino, a smoker for more than 50 years, said even after he passed out fliers to his friends at the American Legion and a local senior center, he wasn’t sure if he should get tested.
“I had one flier left. I said, ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’” he said. “About three days before the screening, I said, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’”
When he was tested at WellStar’s facility in Hiram, doctors found a small spot on Infusino’s left lung, which made him the only one of the 40 veterans tested that day to come back with an abnormality. He set up an appointment to check out the spot two days later at Kennestone Hospital in Marietta. There, doctors told him he had a spot that might be cancer and would need a biopsy. The biopsy determined that he would need surgery.
On Dec. 3, Infusino underwent surgery, during which the upper part of his left lung was removed, along with its associated lymph gland.
By having the screening, Infusino credits WellStar with saving his life.
“It’s the type of cancer that they would usually not detect until it’s too late,” he said. “That tiny little spot could have killed me.”
A second discovery
Last week, Infusino was back at WellStar for a cardiovascular checkup, when doctors discovered a 100 percent blockage in a crucial artery. He said they were able to insert a stint and clear it out, saving his life for the second time in three months.
Infusino said he will never look at WellStar buildings the same again.
“We take those buildings for granted and those people for granted,” he said. “Because they are definitely angels in disguise.”
Now, Infusino carries a special coin Beckler gave him wherever he goes. The coin reads, “To help you heal and wish you love, may an angel bless you from above.”
Beckler said she gives a coin to all the lung cancer patients WellStar diagnoses with its screening program.
“Each one is very special to us,” she said. “I guess I like to give a little bit of hope to encourage every lung cancer patient. For each life we help save, that person can help spread the word and get awareness out there.”
Ready for the big day
In May, Infusino will do something he said he wouldn’t have been able to do without help from doctors — walk his daughter, Christina, down the aisle for her wedding.
“That’s another thing I just took for granted until I found out I had cancer,” he said. “You don’t appreciate it until it’s there, and all of a sudden you just lost it.”
Infusino, who served in the Navy and the Army, would like to get the word out to more veterans about the screening services WellStar offers.
“If there’s some way we can let them know it’s available to them, even if one person goes and it saves their life, it’s worth it,” he said.