Personal Patient Stories
Mr. Ellis's personal story of Graves' disease and the work of Dr. Arvan and others at the University of Michigan
Alon Kahana, M.D., Ph.D.
In 1975, Meelad “Butch” Ellis started Lansing Sanitary Supply Inc. out of the basement of his home. Today, over 35 years later, the business is strong as ever. Mr. Ellis now has two locations in Michigan — one in Lansing and the other in Kalamazoo — and runs the business with his two sons, David and Joe.
Aside from his busy professional career, Mr. Ellis is married to his wife, Jan. They are proud parents of three children: David, Heather, and Joe, and proud grandparents of Elijah and Amina. Throughout the years, Mr. Ellis has always been healthy and active. He never suffered from any major health problems until 2007, when he began to feel sick and weak. Mr. Ellis went to have a CT scan, which revealed the problem – his thyroid was enlarged. At the time, his local physician put him on medicine, but over the next four months, Mr. Ellis became much sicker.
His physician referred him to Dr. Peter Arvan, an endocrinologist at the University of Michigan, Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology & Diabetes. Dr. Arvan specializes in endocrine disorders and his thyroid research has been nationally and internationally recognized. Mr. Ellis remembers his first visit with Dr. Arvan. “Dr. Arvan took one look at me and said, ‘You are a sick guy and we will get you feeling better.’”
After testing, Dr. Arvan diagnosed Mr. Ellis with Graves’ disease. Graves' disease is the most common form of hyperthyroidism, occurring when your immune system mistakenly attacks your thyroid gland and causes it to overproduce the hormone thyroxine. This higher thyroxine level can greatly increase your body's metabolic rate, which may affect you in numerous ways, from your moods to your physical appearance.
While there is no cure, there are three treatment options for Graves’ disease: antithyroid drugs that decrease the production of thyroid hormone, a partial or complete destruction of the thyroid gland using radioactive iodine, and partial or complete surgical removal of the thyroid gland called a thyroidectomy.
Since Mr. Ellis had already tried antithyroid drugs and they were unsuccessful, Dr. Arvan felt the next, best approach would be the radioactive iodine. The radioactivity in the iodine destroys most or all of the tissue in the thyroid gland. “I was concerned about the radioactivity treatment at first. But Dr. Arvan was absolutely wonderful. He explained everything and was very thorough. I felt really confident in his care and, after only six weeks, I was feeling much better.”
During this same time, Mr. Ellis began to experience problems with his vision. “My vision was blurry and my eyes began to bulge, so Dr. Arvan referred me to Dr. Alon Kahana from the U-M Kellogg Eye Center.” After seeing Mr. Ellis, Dr. Kahana diagnosed him with Graves’ eye disease or infiltrative thyroid ophthalmopathy. This disease causes antibodies to attack the eye and can cause inflammation and swelling of the muscles around the eye, which can eventually cause protrusion of the eyes, double vision, and retraction of the eyelids. “At the time, I was experiencing terrible double vision and couldn’t drive for over 14 months. My eyes were also beginning to bulge at this point. Dr. Kahana started me on steroid treatments for inflammation.”
Although Mr. Ellis’s eyesight began to improve, his thyroid levels were beginning to spike again.
“Dr. Arvan thought it was time to have my thyroid completely removed, so he referred me to Dr. Gerard Doherty in the U-M Surgery Department. I was seeing so many doctors at the U-M but it was amazing how they all worked as a cohesive team — led by Dr. Arvan. After the surgery, I had no pain and I could hardly see the scar — it was amazingly easy.”
After his thyroid was completely removed, Mr. Ellis went back to see Dr. Kahana to improve his pronounced bulging eyes. Dr. Kahana performed a decompression procedure on each eye — a very delicate procedure that requires grinding down the bone around the eye sockets. A few months later, another procedure was required to realign his eye muscles. Dr. Steven Archer, also from the Kellogg Eye Center, performed the surgery. “I was absolutely amazed by Dr. Archer’s work. Before I had the procedure, I was suffering from double vision and had to wear an eye patch patch. However, after the procedure, I walked out of the Kellogg Eye Center with no double vision! It was absolutely amazing.”
Weeks went by and Mr. Ellis was feeling great. He had a follow-up appointment with Dr. Arvan. “Since my thyroid was taken care of, Dr. Arvan stated that our relationship was fortunately and unfortunately coming to an end. However, Dr. Arvan wanted to order two new tests — an oral glucose test to screen for diabetes, because of my family history with the disease, and also a cholesterol screening. Three or four days later, I received an email from Dr. Arvan and the subject line read, ‘Not so fast.’”
Mr. Ellis had the beginning stages of type 2 diabetes, or pre-diabetes. “Dr. Arvan put me on a small dose of medication and now I really try to watch my diet.” Mr. Ellis now sees Dr. Arvan a few times a year to monitor his blood glucose levels.
After months of treatment and four surgeries, Mr. Ellis is doing amazingly well. “My team of doctors at the U-M made such a strong impact on my life. They sincerely cared about me and wanted the best outcome possible. I can say that I received phenomenal care and I was wowed by their treatment.”