Vigor. A powerful element in fighting cancer.



Roger Vergin was just hitting his stride as a track and field star in his 70s, winning medals at almost every meet, when sudden chest pains threated to sideline him from the sport he loved.

Roger’s condition baffled ER doctors and general practitioners. A lifetime of hard work and strenuous exercise gave Roger the vigor he needed to seek out a veteran oncologist at Florida Cancer Specialists who correctly diagnosed his condition, saving his life and putting Roger back on the track.

Roger took up the physically demanding sport of track and field in retirement after seeing somebody his age in the gym with a T-shirt from a track meet. Before long, he wasn’t just competing – he was setting American records in his age group and racking up medals at competitions across the country.

A native of the Pacific Northwest, Roger was training four to five times a week and even bought a summer home in Fort Myers so that he could train longer days and more days a year. Back home in the Seattle Area, they call him the Iron Man.

During one of his training sessions in Fort Myers, Roger felt some chest pain – enough to send him home for the day. When the chest pain was still there the next day, his wife Rosemary took him to a clinic. From there, he was immediately sent to the emergency room. ER doctors ran tests and determined that Roger must have had a gallbladder problem, so they scheduled him for surgery to remove his gallbladder the next morning.

Roger and Rosemary spent that night in the emergency room with surgery on the calendar and a nagging concern that the gallbladder wasn’t the real problem. They did research overnight and decided Roger needed another option.

Photo of Roger Vernin They checked Roger out of the hospital and made an appointment the next day with another doctor. There, they ran more tests and found that Roger’s blood was not flowing correctly to his liver and spleen. Gallbladder surgery likely would have killed him that morning if he had gone through with it.

Roger and his wife were about to buy plane tickets that day to return to Seattle and see another specialist when a nurse called his local Florida Cancer Specialists office in Fort Myers. Dr. Bill Harwin was able to see Roger within hours.

Dr. Harwin ran more tests and found that Roger had the JAK2 gene mutation. Dr. Harwin suspected a rare hematologic condition called essential thrombocythemia that causes overproduction of blood platelets in the bone marrow. During that initial visit, Dr. Harwin reached out to an old friend and colleague from University of Florida, Dr. Craig Kitchens, the Head of Hematology at Shands Hospital. Dr. Kitchens helped Dr. Harwin’s team with the diagnosis and initiate an ongoing pharmaceutical treatment that had Roger back on the track in a little over a month. To this day, he maintains a daily prescription regimen to keep clots at bay.

Roger did not truly discover his passion for track and field until several decades after most athletes lay down their javelin and put away their track shoes for good.

He needed an expert diagnosis from the best doctors in order to get regain his health. Now Roger is back on the track and winning gold medals in the decathlon, looking forward to many more races to come.

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