North Hills graduate Kurt Weiss was your average teenager, avoiding going to the doctor for leg pain that he assumed was a sports injury.
When he was 15 years old, doctors diagnosed him with osteosarcoma of his shin bone, a rare childhood cancer that affects one in a million. Kurt had multiple surgeries on his leg, but the cancer spread to his lungs.
Doctors removed those tumors and the cancer quickly returned, bringing infections with it. Surgeons amputated his leg a few years later.
Doctors told his parents his prognosis was not good. They flew him to Texas for an experimental treatment.
“The craziest thing happened,” said Weiss. “It worked. I’ve been cancer-free since December of 1990, that’s what planted the seed of being a physician-scientist. Cancer research saves lives. Period.”
Saving lives became his life’s work. He’s now Dr. Kurt Weiss, and when he’s not meeting patients in the hospital, he’s in his Hillman Cancer Center lab.
There he has a team working on the latest in medical advancements, including a first-year med student and fellow cancer survivor.
“When I was eight years old, I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma,” said Luke Carlson, a medical student from Minnesota who came to UPMC to follow in Dr. Weiss’s footsteps.
“Of course, our connection, to have a similar cancer history and interest in medicine and that was enough for me to move to Pittsburgh,” said Carlson.
D. Weiss is working on two medical trials that he hopes will someday save more lives, while always thinking of the lives lost.
One of his big breakthroughs is using an FDA-approved drug known to treat alcohol dependence, as a breakthrough treatment for osteosarcoma patients.
He’s hopeful his story will give hope to patients, and his research will make a difference, which has been his goal since hearing he was cancer free 32 years ago.
“Nobody wrote me off just because I had metastatic disease even though I gave them a lot of good reasons,” said Dr. Weiss. “They kept trying, but we can and need to do better.”
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