Mark Westcott Artist, Piano Teacher, Lecturer, Author

Pianist Plays Thanks to OHSU's Surgeries

Mark Wescott's most serious operations were for skin cancer and reconstruction of his face in its aftermath

Mark Wescott, Portland's internationally acclaimed concert pianist, has had more attention from the medical world than he ever wanted.

First, a fall from a ladder five years ago fractured his left arm in 14 places. Two years later, as he regained confidence in his playing, cancer forced physicians to remove most of his nose and part of his right cheek.

On Sunday Westcott got another kind of attention—the standing ovation kind—after a two-hour recital to benefit the Oregon Health Sciences University Center for Ethics in Health Care.

It was Westcott's way of saying thanks to the Oregon Health Plan, which paid for surgery to reconstruct his face.

The health plan, which went into effect in February 1993, is designed to help people like Westcott who can't afford to pay for health care and who can't get medical insurance.

In gratitude, Westcott turned the big Steinway into a musical waterfall and flooded the auditorium with notes.

Westcott was first diagnosed with skin cancer in the spring of 1992 and underwent surgery later that year. But in early 1993 physicians found that the disease had come "roaring back," Westcott said. After surgeries in 1994, he said, "we pretty much were able to make sure that we got everything without having to take too much structural tissue, cartilage."

The pianist said there's too much criticism of social programs these days.

"There's nobody who couldn't be—with the turn of the medical screw and the attitudes of the insurance companies—in the same situation I am," he said.

Westcott cited himself as an example of someone who isn't a social dropout looking for a handout.

"Imagine facing tens of thousands of dollars worth of surgery and hospitalization," he said.

In the audience of 120 sat Dr. Ted A. Cook, OHSU's chief of facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, the one who repaired Westcott's face.

Cook said Westcott needs at least two more operations plus sessions of dermabrasion to smooth the scars.

"It was difficult because most of his nose and a good bit of his right cheek were missing," he said. He covered the damage to Westcott's nose with a flap of skin turned down from his forehead.

Eventually Cook said, no one will notice the reconstructed areas of his face, although a few scars will remain.

By Patrick O'Neill, The Oregonian

Copied by Ben Serna-Grey

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