BIRMINGHAM, Ala (WIAT) — UAB is launching the Pat and Jean Sullivan Comprehensive Head and Neck Cancer Survivor Care Program in 2020. This comes as Pat Sullivan passed away Sunday morning, but this is a project that’s been in the works for the Sullivan’s.

And it’s the first of its kind in the United States.

The O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB started working on the Sullivan Survivorship Program following Pat Sullivan’s recovery process after cancer. It is unique among other survivor programs because it begins at the beginning of diagnosis.

Coach Sullivan was diagnosed with Stage IV squamous cell carcinoma, a form of cancer that begins in the cells that line the structures of the head and neck. Sullivan battled many side effects from the cancer treatment he received 16 years ago.

“Head and neck cancers are particularly difficult for patients to go through because of the cancer itself and its treatments can have an impact on many different levels,” says M.D., the John S. Odess Endowed Chair in Otolaryngology, chair of the UAB Department of Otolaryngology and senior scientist in the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Carroll is one of the many doctors and medical staff employees who are involved in launching the survivorship program. This team includes head and neck cancer experts Carroll; Susan D. McCammon, M.D.; John W. Poynor, Endowed Professor in Otolaryngology; Sharon Spencer, M.D.; Ruby Meredith Outstanding Clinician Endowed Chair in the Department of Radiation Oncology; Lisle Nabell, M.D., professor in the UAB Division of Hematology & Oncology; cancer survivorship expert Smita Bhatia, M.D., MPH, director of the UAB Institute for Cancer Outcomes and Survivorship; and survivorship clinical operations expert Wendy Landier, Ph.D., RN, CRNP, deputy director of the Institute for Cancer Outcomes and Survivorship.

Through the program, UAB doctors hope that each patient who is diagnosed with head and neck cancer, like Pat Sullivan, is provided the opportunity to enroll in the Sullivan Survivorship Program to ensure a better quality of life beyond surviving cancer.

“Where as the medical team is really focusing on ‘Is the cancer responding to the treatment?,’ ‘Is the cancer going away?’ The survivorship program is looking at the rest of their life and is focused on returning them as close to normal function as possible, and maintain the quality of life and not just getting rid of the cancer,” Carroll said.

The Survivorship Program benefits more than just the patient, Carroll said. Jean Sullivan, Pat Sullivan’s wife, has been a major factor in the creation of the program since she also served as his caregiver since his diagnosis.

“Throughout Pat’s care, it has been apparent to us the need for a program that helps patients navigate the issues they will encounter and provides access to specialists needed to address those challenges,” Jean Sullivan said.

Since Pat Sullivan’s diagnosis, he has been able to help and encourage other people who have been diagnosed with head and neck cancers like his. Carroll said Pat Sullivan has been there for other people who have reached out to him because they have been diagnosed with the same disease. And was a pat on their shoulder to encourage them to get through their battle with cancer.

Through the survivorship program, it involves a collaborative effort from all across the medical campus like physical therapy, speech and swallowing therapy, nutrition, and more.

UAB hopes the program will become the blueprint for other cancer survivor programs to come.