Gone are the days when Southern Nevada residents felt they needed to travel to other states for treatment of serious ear, nose, and throat ailments, according to the physician who heads the department of otolaryngology – head and neck surgery at the UNLV School of Medicine.
In fact, said Dr. Robert Wang, people from other states now often travel to Las Vegas for treatment at one of the school’s two ENT (ear, nose, and throat) clinics.
“We have patients, young and old, coming here from Utah, Arizona, and California for a variety of problems,” the professor said. “It used to be children from here would go to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, but now we have two pediatric otolaryngologists who were trained at Stanford and Vanderbilt. Other people would leave here and go to UCLA, USC, and the Mayo Clinic for complex head and neck cancer surgery. But now they’re staying here, and people are coming from out of state, when they see we have people trained at places like Johns Hopkins. We had one patient go to Mayo who was told he was better off staying here.”
Otolaryngologists, also known as ENT physicians, use both medical and surgical skills to treat patients.
The training his physician team has received is paying off, Wang said. Two audiologists also on staff help treat those with hearing loss and proactively prevent related damage.
According to Diane Novak, ENT administrator, around 1,500 patients a month are seen at UNLV Medicine’s two ENT clinics in Southern Nevada.
Common conditions seen at the clinics include airway problems; cancer of the head and neck; chronic sinusitis; cleft lip and cleft palate; deviated nasal septum; hearing loss; swallowing disorder; tinnitus; tonsil or adenoid infection; vertigo and dizziness; and voice disorders.
Wang pointed out that a member of his team, Dr. Tina Elkins, is able to treat chronic sinusitis patients with balloon sinuplasty, hailed as one of the most exciting advances in the ear, nose and throat field in the last 20 years. The procedure uses a catheter and balloon to open and expand blocked sinuses, much like balloon angioplasty does for blocked arteries of the heart. “It’s relatively painless,” he said of the procedure that can be done in the office or hospital.
One study of 1,036 balloon sinuplasty patients showed sinus symptoms improved in 96 percent of patients at an average follow-up period of 10 months, with 74 percent completely freed of sinus infection at an eight-month follow-up. Another study showed significant improvement in patients’ symptoms at two years.
Chronic sinusitis, where medications and treatments don’t help after three months of use, is a huge medical issue in the United States. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that more than 30 million Americans are affected annually at a cost of more than $4.3 billion. Medical economists note that prescription drugs and over-the-counter remedies account for much of the expense but provide little curative benefit for most patients with the condition.
Wang’s department also runs the only residency program for otolaryngology in Nevada. It is a five-year training program. According to the American College of Surgeons, “an otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon is a physician who has been prepared by an accredited residency program to provide comprehensive medical and surgical care of patients with diseases and disorders that affect the ears, the respiratory and upper alimentary systems, and related structures of the head and neck.”
About Members of the ENT Department
Dr. Robert Wang, a professor at the UNLV School of Medicine, completed his general surgery residency at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, his otolaryngology residency at Harvard Medical School and his fellowship in head and neck surgery at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. With more than 30 years of experience, he has expertise in tertiary level head and neck cancer treatment. He runs the sole head and neck tumor board in Las Vegas, partnering with colleague Oluwafunmilola Okuyemi, who performs reconstruction including free flap transfers. He performs robotic-assisted as well as laser surgery transorally for cancers. A high-volume thyroid surgeon for thyroid cancers and goiters, including those extending substernal into the chest, he is also experienced in parathyroidectomy for primary and tertiary hyperparathyroidism. Since 1991 Dr. Wang has been treating laryngology patients with spasmodic dysphonia (a disease that makes speaking difficult) using botulinum toxin injections. With the UNLV mechanical engineering undergraduate and graduate programs, Wang and the otolaryngology residency program have been performing research in modeling and treating obstructive sleep apnea.
Dr. Matthew Ng, an associate professor and residency program director of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, received his medical degree from the USC Keck School of Medicine. He completed his residency training in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center and a neurotology fellowship at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Neurotology is a branch of clinical medicine that studies and treats neurological disorders of the ear. He treats all forms of hearing loss, tinnitus, chronic ear infection, cholesteatoma, facial nerve disorders, dizziness and imbalance, and tumors of the lateral skull base. He performs cochlear implant surgery as well as the placement of other implantable hearing devices. Dr. Ng served as a physician member of the Nevada Board of Hearing Aid Specialists. He is a volunteer otolaryngologist for the Southern Nevada Cleft Palate and Craniofacial Clinic.
Dr. Jo-Lawrence Bigcas, an assistant professor, received his medical degree from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. He completed an otolaryngology residency at the University of Texas McGovern Medical School. As a resident, he received awards for resident teaching, research, and clinical care. He completed a fellowship at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in head and neck surgical oncology, skull base surgery and microvascular free flap reconstruction. His primary clinical interests are in the treatment of head and neck cancer patients, salivary and thyroid disease, cancer prevention, skull base surgery, robotic surgery, and head and neck reconstruction. He also has clinical interests in other subspecialties of otolaryngology, including bony and soft-tissue facial reconstruction, facial reanimation, and sinonasal disease.
Dr. Oluwafunmilola T. Okuyemi, an assistant professor, received her medical degree from Washington University School of Medicine and also completed her otolaryngology residency there. She completed a fellowship in head and neck surgery and microvascular surgery at the University of Iowa. Her clinical interests include head and neck cancer (including oral cavity, oropharynx, sinus, larynx, and skin), microvascular surgery, salivary gland tumors and cancers, facial nerve reanimation, skull base tumors, sinus surgery for benign and cancerous disorders, and reconstruction of the head and neck. Her research interests include clinical outcomes research investigating functional outcomes in head and neck cancer treatment, and microvascular reconstruction. She also has interest in research into possible future head and neck transplantation therapies. She has written several book chapters in her area of expertise and served as a reviewer for several journals, including JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.
Dr. Tina Elkins, an assistant professor, received her medical degree from the University of Texas Health Sciences Center, Houston, where she also completed her residency in otolaryngology. In Houston, she also did research at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Before joining the UNLV School of Medicine faculty, she was the primary owner of a successful ENT practice in Texas, treating many ENT conditions, including chronic sinusitis, deviated septum, allergies, ear infections, throat infections, hearing loss, thyroid masses, skin cancers, and head and neck cancer. In her private practice, she incorporated new in-office techniques, including treatment for sinus infections (balloon sinuplasty), eustachian tube dysfunction, and age-related nasal drainage (Clarifix).
Dr. Alycia Spinner, an assistant professor, received her medical degree at Mercer University. She was the inaugural otolaryngology resident at the UNR School of Medicine and completed a fellowship in pediatric otolaryngology at Vanderbilt University. Her scope of practice encompasses all aspects of pediatric head and neck disease, including disorders of the ear, complex airway disease, cleft lip and palate, sleep disturbances, neck masses, and sinus conditions. Her analytical work has been published in the International Journal of Pediatric Otolaryngology. She has been part of international medical relief aid to Cambodia, Argentina, and Mexico. She also has lectured at American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery conferences in San Diego and Orlando.
Dr. Jennifer Joy-Cornejo is the senior audiologist and faculty lecturer at the UNLV School of Medicine’s department of otolaryngology. She received her master’s degree in communicative disorders and sciences from Wichita State University. Certified in audiology and as a hearing aid specialist by the Nevada Pathology, Audiology and Hearing Aid Dispensing Boards, she possesses the certificate of clinical competence in audiology from the American Speech Language Hearing Association and is an American Academy of Audiology Fellow. The former director of audiology at the Ear Institute of Chicago, she has authored and co-authored articles on the Baha hearing implant system and cochlear implants, as well as the audiological aspects of otosclerosis and revision stapedectomy procedures.
Dr. Anja Carl received her doctor of audiology degree from the University of California, San Diego and San Diego State University. Certified in audiology and as a hearing aid specialist by both the Nevada and California Speech Language Pathology, Audiology and Hearing Aid Dispensing Boards, she possesses the certificate of clinical competence in audiology from the American Speech Language Hearing Association and is an American Academy of Audiology Fellow. She currently offers diagnostic audiological evaluations, cochlear implant and bone conduction evaluation and processor programming, and hearing aid evaluation and fitting services to children and adults. She also offers videonystagmography balance evaluations to adults.