Navy pilot with ‘tumour from chin to coronary heart’ saved by ‘miracle’ 12-hour operation

A navy pilot who had a tumour running from his jaw to his heart is now cancer free following a ground-breaking marathon operation.

Richard Sutton, who flew helicopters in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Iraq for decades, had been told he had exhausted all avenues several times since being diagnosed with epithelioid fibrosarcoma 12 years ago.

The rare and usually fatal cancer is difficult to treat as starts in the bones but can spread anywhere.

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The 53-year-old’s cancer first appeared in his neck, as a lump in the roof of his mouth, before spreading through his body. The dad-of-two had eight surgeries over ten years, yet his cancer continued to return. One tumour grew so large it crushed his windpipe and left him struggling to breath.

Armed forces helicopter
The dad believes his cancer was from exposure to fumes during service

Sutton was told his tumour was inoperable by surgeons at three different hospitals, not just for its size, but for its proximity to a major blood vessel pumping blood to his brain.

In 2021, Sutton was given less than a year to live and braced to say goodbye to children Tom 28, and Emma, 25, however, an eleventh hour surgery removed the tumour entirely, reports MailOnline.

Speaking on a new Channel 4 series, Super Surgeons: A Chance At Life, Sutton said: “I had been told three times that I had reached the end of the road, so I went to London with a one per cent expectation that anything could be done.

Soldiers from The Royal Regiment of Scotland
The ex-Navy helicopter pilot was given less than one year to live

“I just wanted to be able to look my children in the eyes and say, after 12 years, radiotherapy, chemo and eight previous surgeries, that I had truly exhausted all options.”

The ex-pilot had been referred to Professor Vin Paleri, consultant head and neck surgeon at The Royal Marsden, London, who offered Sutton an operation that could leave him with swallowing and voice problems, or see him have a stroke, but also could see the dad cancer free.

The complex surgery took a team of doctors 12 hours to complete, who cut Sutton’s chest open due to the tumour’s size. The medics were able to remove the growth entirely while avoiding damaging the nearby artery.

Helicopter at sea
The ex-Armed Forces officer underwent a 12 hour surgery to become cancer free

Sutton suffered a stroke as a result of the surgery, but remains cancer free. He said: “Recovery has been a long hard slog but my family and friends have been amazing.

“I hope my determination to survive has repaid their love.”

Sutton is among the many Armed Forces personnel who believe their rare and deadly cancers have been caused by prolonged exposure to toxic exhaust fumes during service.

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