College student Diego Astorga hopes to own his own hotel one day. His stay at IU Health taught him much about the hospitality industry.
From the time he was about 11 years old, Diego Astorga traveled with his family – learning about different customs, countries, and cultures. His father, also named Diego, works in the hotel industry.
“I remember our first trip to South America. We stayed all the way down here,” he said pointing to a map showing the Southern most tip of Argentina. “It was in a brand new hotel in the middle of nowhere and an amazing memory for me.”
Over the years the family – his dad, mother Maria Canestri and sister Victoria Astorga – enjoyed travels throughout Europe and Asia. And when Diego left for college he chose a campus in the Southern Region of Ontario Canada nearly 3,000 miles from his home in Caracas, Venezuela.
He was in his third year of studying hospitality management and completing a six-month food and beverage internship in China when he began feeling pain in his back.
“I love to explore. I wanted to learn about a new culture and it was one of the best experiences of my life,” said Astorga, 22 of his study in China. “I’m lucky that my mom and dad have always supported me on my adventures.”
But the back pain became worse. He thought it was kidney stones and by November 2018, he was back in Canada attending classes at Niagara College but couldn’t concentrate. He went to the hospital and stayed for six hours waiting for some answers.
He was diagnosed with testicular cancer. An 11-centimeter tumor was discovered in the retroperitoneal space in the abdominal cavity.
“I was alone when they gave me the news. They put me in the emergency room and the first person I called was my cousin who is studying medicine,” said Astorga. “I passed the phone to the doctor and he talked to my cousin who took notes.” His cousin’s father is an oncologist and was familiar with IU Health oncologist Dr. Lawrence Einhorn, known for successful treatment of testicular cancer – germ cell tumors -using a mix of high dose chemotherapies and peripheral stem cell transplant.
Astorga’s parents met him in Canada and together they flew home to Venezuela. He completed rounds of chemotherapy but the tumor only shrunk about 30 percent – not what they had hoped for. The family traveled to New York to meet with oncologists for a second opinion – hoping to have surgery to remove the tumor. But when his tumor markers continued to increase, they postponed the surgery.
With few answers, their anxiety levels were on the rise and they were searching for the best treatment options. A partner in the clinic where Astorga’s uncle practices had studied with Dr. Einhorn. The two oncologists suggested Astorga and his family come to IU Health. They arrived to Indianapolis on March 4 and met Dr. Einhorn the following day.
Dr. Einhorn had been to Venezuela and he knew Maria Siddons, clinical coordinator of destination services is from Venezuela and speaks fluent Spanish. “He sent a message to Maria and said ‘please take good care of these people’” said Astorga. “From that point my whole world changed.”
After reviewing Astorga’s medical records, Dr. Einhorn recommended surgery only –no stem cell transplant. IU Health Dr. Timothy Masterson performed the procedure to remove the tumor.
“Days after surgery when my blood work came back I was alone with Dr. Einhorn. God bless him. I hugged him and I cried,” said Astorga. “I shared my concerns with him and he said ‘this shouldn’t be happening to you. You should be worrying about tests and homework. When I talked about my fears he said ‘there is no crystal ball to see into the future.’ He made me understand there is no reason for fears.”
As part of his studies, Astorga read a book given to him by his father. He recites a phrase he read in the book: “I believe the hospitality industry comes from the same mother and father as hospitals.” His passion is hospitality and he sees it as a way to teach about serving and caring for others.
“The hospital is the same – Dr. Einhorn, Dr. Masterson, Maria, the interpreter Luis Aldrey – they all worked together to make us feel comfortable, said Astorga. “They take amazing care of us. I really hope the citizens know how lucky they are to have an institution like IU Health. This is a place that solves problems. They give you energy and strength after you have been knocked down so many times. They show passion and human soul – it’s a gift that brings joy to others.”
— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email email@example.com.