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What's Ringing Rachel's 'Belle'?

Rachel Belle

Seattle's Top Brain Cancer Doc Loses His Own Battle to Cancer

World-renowned brain surgeon Dr. Greg Foltz hard at work. (Linda Thomas/KIRO Radio image)

Last September I introduced you to Dr. Gregory Foltz, director of the Center for Advanced Brain Tumor Treatment at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute. I told you the amazingly inspiring story about why he became a neurologist.

About 25 years ago, Greg Foltz was a talented concert pianist on his way to Juilliard when a very close friend was diagnosed with brain cancer. A year later, she passed away.

"Her father was a brain surgeon, was the chairman of a university department," Dr Foltz told KIRO Radio. "He mentioned to me, in the process of his grieving, that nothing really was being done. And that what needed to happen was someone needed to devote their life to this."

Dr Foltz also spoke with KING 5.

"All of a sudden, what I was doing in music, which had seemed so wonderful just the week before, just didn't seem that important," he said.

So he decided to make an abrupt career change. A year later he passed the medical school exam, and eventually became a nationally respected neurologist for the strides he has taken to find a cure for brain cancer.

"I have the most fulfilling job you could ever imagine. I take care of patients who are battling life threatening diseases every day. I'm helping them through that process. I'm keeping them alive. We do that day after day, month after month, year after year."

Sadly, Dr. Gregory Foltz died late Thursday night. He succumbed to stage four pancreatic cancer at the age of 50, leaving behind his wife, a prominent Seattle OBGYN, and two young children. Over the past several months, he was forced to give up his role as doctor, and become a patient.

Condolences come from everyone Dr. Foltz has touched over the years, including legendary broadcaster Pat O'Day.

"I love the guy and what a shame," Pat told me. "That's the way life is, we don't know. He's exiting way too soon. But in his brief time here on earth, boy has he left a footprint."

Pat says he was lucky to have Dr. Foltz remove his brain tumor.

"It was a year ago that people were noticing that I seemed to be out to lunch and I had no pain of any kind. But people are asking me questions and I'm not answering them. I don't know that I'm not answering them. So they took me to Anacortes and did a CAT scan and said, 'Oh my God!' because I had a tumor somewhere between a golf ball and a tennis ball, in size, in my brain."

Luckily, Pat's tumor was not malignant, and he lives to tell about it.

Every year, brain cancer survivors, sufferers and their families gather at Seattle Center to raise research money though for the Brain Cancer Walk. This year, the walk will be on September 21.

"This year's walk is the opportunity for the community to say, 'Thank you, Dr. Gregory Foltz,'" Pat said.

As for the future of The Ben and Catherine Ivy Center for Advanced Brain Tumor Treatment, Dr. Foltz hand picked a new chief neurosurgeon, and Swedish is confident that Dr. Charles Cobb will be as dedicated to a cure as Dr. Foltz was.

Dr. Foltz's death seems unfair and tragic, but something he said to KING 5 makes me feel confident that he would like doctors to work even harder to find a cure.

"As tragic as this is, we can't just put it aside and ignore it and shut it off somewhere and say, 'Oh, that's too bad.' We have to let it empower us so that we can reach out and do something."

Ring My Belle on KIRO Radio

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