What are the odds that a medical student would train under the same group of physicians who once treated him as a child and then go on to work side-by-side them at that same hospital? However unlikely the scenario, Dr. Nicholas Thomas-Bock is honored to have been able to do exactly that.
The positive impact his medical team had on him as a child undergoing treatment for a brain tumor, paired with the special time he spent learning from this same group of physicians, including mentors Drs. Michael Rubin and Godfrey Gaisie, forever shaped his path in life.
“While going through treatment and seeing how supportive and amazing the staff was made me want to help other kids and families just like me,” he said. “I think it’s pretty cool that this same group of physicians first treated me, then trained me, now they have to put up with me!”
Today, Akron Children’s newest pediatric radiologist hopes to embody that same compassionate and supportive provider experience he had as a child undergoing cancer treatment here.
“Going through experiences that are both good and bad has better prepared me to help these kids,” Dr. Thomas-Bock said. “I truly can better identify with patients. I know what it’s like to be in their shoes, and also what it might feel like to have a child going through an illness.”
From patient to pediatric provider
In July 2002, Dr. Thomas-Bock was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 14 after a routine sports physical.
During the appointment, the doctor discovered he had poor vision in his right eye and referred him to an ophthalmologist for a more comprehensive eye exam. From there, the ophthalmologist sent him for an MRI and later sent the alarming results to a former Akron Children’s neurosurgeon.
“Getting the results was a complete shock,” he said. “I had led a normal life up until then, playing golf, baseball and football. I was just following the steps to try out for the Hoover High School golf team and never could have imagined it would have led me down this scary path.”
Within days, Dr. Thomas-Bock underwent brain surgery. Due to the placement of the tumor, however, it was not possible to completely remove it. So after his first surgery, doctors decided to watch it, but the tumor grew back. Dr. Thomas-Bock had surgery again 6 months later in 2003 followed by chemotherapy for 12 months. Finally, radiation therapy completed his treatment in 2004.
“At that age, you can’t fully grasp what is going on or how it could turn out,” he said. “It was a constant source of stress for my family, but the fact that everyone was so compassionate, supportive and good at their jobs made a tremendous impact on our family while going through a very difficult time.”
During treatment, Dr. Thomas-Bock remembers spending countless hours studying copies of his MRI scans at home trying to figure out what’s normal and what’s not. It was then he knew he’d return to Akron Children’s, but this time it would be to serve the same population that served him, while helping kids get better.
In his new role to provide a range of imaging tests to help diagnose health conditions, injuries and surgical problems in children and teens, it’s his goal to leave patients with a sense of trust in himself and the hospital that they are receiving the very best care possible.
He builds that trust by first offering each and every patient a dose of empathy from someone who’s been there. In addition, he makes it a priority to be thorough when explaining test results and illnesses to families so there are no unanswered questions when they walk out the door. He also keeps in mind the way he would have wanted to be treated as a child when he interacts with patients.
“After everything I went through and was fortunate enough to come out healthy on the other side, I knew I could be someone who was supportive to these kids,” Dr. Thomas-Bock said. “That’s what motivated me to pay it forward and be a part of the team taking care of them.”