When ThedaCare patient Gary Scholtens’ prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level began to increase, he wasn’t especially concerned. His level of 5.1 ng/mL was higher than the borderline level of 4 ng/mL, but he had no prostate symptoms.
Lucky for Gary, a chance encounter led to a diagnosis that proved lifesaving.
Rewind several months to an 80th birthday party for Gary’s mother-in-law. Gary’s wife, Dawn, invited several guests and rented three homes in Green Lake for the occasion.
As Dawn and her sister-in-law were preparing for the party, a person in a truck drove up. It turned out that he was the owner of the property dropping off some firewood. He introduced himself as Dr. Andy Maes.
When the pair asked Dr. Maes what kind of doctor he was, he said he was a urologist.
“I said immediately, ‘Oh, my husband needs a urologist!’” Dawn says.
Gary, who had relocated to Green Lake with Dawn after retiring as an educator in Iowa, had developed bladder stones before the move and needed a follow-up. He made an appointment with Dr. Maes, who practices at ThedaCare Medical Center-Berlin and ThedaCare Physicians-Ripon, and had the bladder stones removed.
“We continued to meet for routine care, but about a year and a half ago, my PSA numbers began to creep up just a little bit,” Gary says.
Dr. Maes ordered an MRI, which showed normal results. From there, he recommended continued monitoring.
In the months that followed, Gary’s PSA level continued to inch up. When that happens, it can indicate an abnormality, Dr. Maes says. Eventually, he recommended a biopsy.
“Unfortunately, Gary did have prostate cancer on the biopsy,” Dr. Maes says. “It was of the form that in time could have threatened his life.”
State of the Art, Close to Home
For Gary, the news was frightening at first. In addition to what he was going through, Dawn had been diagnosed with endometrial cancer a year prior. She underwent chemotherapy and other treatments and was doing well, but a new diagnosis was a lot for the couple to absorb.
“We’re of the generation where cancer was big and bad and not very fixable,” Gary says. “When you’re relatively healthy and you hear that word, it’s a shock.”
Through his and Dawn’s journey, Gary says he’s realized that medicine has come a long way throughout the years.
Robotic surgery has been one of those areas of advancement.
“The da Vinci system allows for minimally invasive surgery,” Dr. Maes says. “It helps us do complex work in hard-to-reach places.”
Given Gary’s age and overall health, Dr. Maes recommended a robotic prostatectomy. Gary underwent the surgery at ThedaCare Medical Center-Berlin in June 2023.
“The recovery was much quicker and easier with the robotic surgery,” Gary says.
Access to that level of technology in a community the size of Berlin was a surprise to Gary. Both he and Dawn have family out of state who have endured runaround and months-long waits for cancer care and needed surgeries.
“Both of us have been very surprised and impressed with what ThedaCare can do at Berlin,” Gary says.
Gary didn’t need any treatments beyond the surgery, and today he’s healthy and doing well.
“My PSA test shows an undetectable reading,” he says. “To quote Dr. Maes, ‘That’s freaking amazing.’”
“The goal after the operation is to see that PSA become undetectable,” Dr. Maes says. “When the lab comes back [showing that], you get so excited.”
Gary praises Dr. Maes for his expertise and the compassionate care he provides.
“I’m very grateful for Dr. Maes and his willingness to listen and his persistence,” he says. “As far as I’m concerned, that probably saved my life.”
Dr. Maes urges men to stay watchful over their prostate health.
“The problem with prostate cancer is it’s often a silent thing,” he says. “So, you should talk to your doctor about getting routine examinations, which include the blood testing and palpation of the prostate. Those two together screen for prostate cancer.”
As for Gary, he and Dawn are looking forward to spending more time with their kids and grandkids. While Gary admits that the past couple of years have brought hardship — both the with the pandemic and two difficult diagnoses — he’s ready for what lies ahead.
“We’ve had a year and a half of dealing with cancer. We’re ready for life to just get back to normal,” he says. “Through Dr. Maes’ help and insistence, we feel like that’s going to be possible.”