Rodney Landreneau, M.D., spent more than 20 years working tirelessly at the renowned University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, carving his reputation as one of America’s finest thoracic surgeons, yet knowing eventually this day would come.
It was time to return to his roots in the Bayou.
Landreneau, 59, has left Pittsburgh to become the director of the Ochsner Cancer Institute in New Orleans, filling a huge void in his home state of Louisiana — and the entire Gulf South region — with his expertise in the treatment of pleural mesothelioma.
“There has been a large, underserved population here for too long,” Landreneau told Asbestos.com. “I see this as a great opportunity to help a lot of people from my home area, particularly those with mesothelioma. The timing was right.”
Landreneau arrived less than six weeks ago, and he already has begun seeing several mesothelioma patients. He recently performed the first surgical debulking/hyperthermic chemoperfusion combination in Louisiana history.
It was a procedure that only a few medical centers in the country perform today, but one which he had done many times before — and with good results — at Pennsylvania’s UPMC Cancer Center, a national leader in the treatment of mesothelioma.
Landreneau has brought hope to the Gulf South for mesothelioma patients.
“There has just been a void of mesothelioma specialization in this area of the country. It’s five or six hours in any direction from New Orleans to find a place, but a large percentage of mesothelioma cases come from this area,” he said. “It’s the right place for me to be right now.”
It was not easy to drop his thriving practice in western Pennsylvania and leave a cancer center second to none, from a place where he had met his wife and begun raising his three youngest children, but Landreneau had been contemplating the move for several years.
His motive was personal — as well as professional.
Landreneau, the oldest of six children, was raised on a farm in the small bayou town of Eunice, La., 150 miles west of New Orleans. It was a family that believed in helping others and making the world a better place to live.
His father was a surgeon. He and his two younger brothers followed in their father’s footsteps. One sister became a nurse. The other sister married a doctor. All but Landreneau stayed close to home, leaving plenty of his family’s influence around the state.
But the Landreneau patriarch died a few years ago. One brother died in 2009, at age 55. Another brother died in 2011, at age 43, leaving behind children still to be raised. That convinced him of what he always knew — he could go home again.
He returned last month to St. Edmund High School, where he attended more than 40 years ago, to see Friday night football; and see his niece walk across the field as part of the Homecoming Court. He knew then he had made the right decision, seeing people that night he had not seen in decades. It felt so right.
“There was a family opportunity, along with a clinical opportunity, in the move for me,” he said. “I think they both played a part in it.”
Not only will the move bring the Landreneau family closer again, but it will benefit the cancer community even more. The state of Louisiana, with a rich history in shipping, ship building and manufacturing — all leading asbestos-exposure occupations — has a disproportionate amount of mesothelioma cases.
According to one study by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Louisiana has the third-highest mesothelioma incidence rate in the country, yet until Landreneau joined the Ochsner Center, there was no mesothelioma specialist of his stature within the state.
His goal is to work closely with the Louisiana State University (LSU) Medical School, where he earned his degree, and make Ochsner the first facility in the state to earn the prestigious NCI Cancer Center designation.
“This is pretty darn exciting to me,” he said. “In the past, everyone from New Orleans and everywhere else had to leave the state to get the care they needed for mesothelioma. We want to bring a lot of what we did in Pittsburgh here, to provide the care they need.”
While in Pittsburgh, he often saw patients from Louisiana who had traveled for treatment. Sadly, he more often heard stories about others who were unable, or unwilling to travel, electing to forego the rigors of a trip with an incurable cancer.
So now he has come to them, hoping to prolong lives, provide hope and bring the latest and greatest advances in mesothelioma treatment to Louisiana.
“I had a great run in Pittsburgh. It was a wonderful place to be and to work, but it’s good to be back home again, helping people where I grew up,” he said. “It just feels right.”