Dr. Amy J. Reed, a physician and cancer patient who turned a personal calamity into a crusade to spare other women from the medical procedure that harmed her, died Wednesday night at her home in Yardley, Pa. She was 44.
Her husband, Dr. Hooman Noorchashm, said the cause was leiomyosarcoma of the uterus, a type of cancer.
Dr. Reed and her husband fought for years to ban the use of a surgical tool called a power morcellator, which has a spinning blade that slices up tissue so it can be extracted through small incisions. Though the device is regarded as a great boon to minimally invasive surgery, if a patient has cancer, as Dr. Reed did, morcellation can spread the disease.
Dr. Reed and Dr. Noorchashm (pronounced NOOR-chash) won some notable victories. Because of their efforts, the Food and Drug Administration studied morcellation and in 2014 recommended that it not be used in the “the vast majority” of women having surgery for uterine fibroids, a common tumor that is usually benign but that can hide a dangerous type of cancer.
Some insurers began declining coverage for morcellation, and one major manufacturer took its morcellators off the market. Use of the technique dropped.
Dr. Reed, an anesthesiologist and the mother of six children, underwent surgery involving morcellation in 2013, when, at 40, she had her uterus removed because of fibroids. The operation was performed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School, where both Dr. Reed and Dr. Noorchashm had teaching positions. A biopsy after the operation found that Dr. Reed had a hidden leiomyosarcoma, an aggressive type of cancer.
Only then were Dr. Reed and her husband told that her surgeon had used a power morcellator to slice up her uterus. The device allows doctors to work through small slits rather than big, open incisions, so that patients can heal faster and run less risk of bleeding and infection.
At that time, morcellation was performed on 50,000 women a year in the United States to help remove fibroids, or to remove the entire uterus.
The device had sprayed malignant cells around inside Dr. Reed’s abdomen, leaving her with an advanced, Stage 4 cancer.
As physicians, Dr. Reed and Dr. Noorchashm knew at the time that her morcellation procedure could be a death sentence. As a surgeon himself, Dr. Noorchashm was outraged at the idea of shredding potentially cancerous tissue inside a body cavity. He had been trained to cut around tumors whenever possible, not through them, precisely because slicing into them could spread the cancer cells.
Dr. Reed quickly embarked on a series of aggressive treatments, but she still suffered one recurrence after another, in her abdomen, lungs and spine. She had several major operations and received arduous courses of chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy and experimental treatment.
The couple fought the medical establishment as fiercely as they did the cancer, seeking to ban morcellation. They sent thousands of emails to the F.D.A., device makers, hospitals, legislators, professional societies and individual doctors, and they reached out to news organizations to publicize their cause.
Dr. Noorchashm also collected the names and histories of women whose cancer had spread after morcellation, enlisting them, or their survivors, in the crusade.
Their activism, alienating some colleagues and aggravating administrators, came at a price. Dr. Noorchashm had been a rising star in cardiothoracic surgery at Brigham and Women’s, where his wife had the operation, but as he continued to criticize its gynecology department, his career there began to stall.
He and Dr. Reed were both hired by the University of Pennsylvania, and moved there in 2014. Both had extended family in and around Philadelphia.
They had apparently burned their bridges at Harvard. At one point, when Dr. Reed needed to return to Brigham and Women’s for a medical procedure, she and Dr. Noorchashm were stunned to find that the hospital had assigned a guard to inspect their bags and escort them at all times, for security reasons. Dr. Noorchashm called a lawyer. A judge put a stop to the escort, issuing a restraining order against the hospital.
The gynecology profession also fought back against Dr. Noorchashm and Dr. Reed, insisting that leiomyosarcoma was so rare that the benefit of morcellation — the ability to have minimally invasive surgery — far outweighed any risk.
Before 2013, the F.D.A. had received no reports of uterine cancers being spread by morcellators. But after Dr. Reed and her husband went public — interviewed by newspapers, magazines and TV news shows — reports began to pour in. Dr. Reed, with her hair gone and her youngest child sometimes climbing onto her lap during interviews, was a sympathetic figure.
The couple’s efforts gained traction. The F.D.A. responded by studying published and unpublished medical data on morcellation. Before then, estimates of how many women with fibroids would have undiagnosed leiomyosarcomas or other uterine sarcomas were based on studies of varying reliability, and ranged from 1 in 10,000 to in 1 in 500. But the F.D.A. concluded in April 2014 that hidden sarcomas were more common than earlier estimates had stated — and probably occurred in about one in 350 women with fibroids. The tumors are extremely difficult to detect without surgery.
Soon after the F.D.A. issued its findings, one maker of morcellators, Johnson & Johnson, pulled its devices off the market. But others remained.
In November 2014, the F.D.A. went further, recommending that power morcellators not be used in the vast majority of women having fibroid surgery. Using the device in women with undetected sarcomas, it said, “may spread cancer and decrease the long-term survival of patients.” The F.D.A. portrayed the statement as a “safety communication,” not as an announcement of a new regulation.
Morcellator use dropped significantly, but many gynecologists still favored it, and the devices remained available. Dr. Noorchashm and Dr. Reed would not settle for less than a complete ban, and continued to agitate. They prodded legislators to ask the Government Accountability Office to investigate morcellation.
In a report issued in February, the G.A.O. criticized the F.D.A.’s method of collecting data on problems stemming from morcellation, noting that the system was dependent on voluntary reports from doctors, who frequently fail to report bad outcomes.
The F.D.A. said it agreed that it needed a better system to detect harm to patients. By September 2016, the agency had received 285 reports of uterine cancer being spread by morcellation.
Amy Josephine Reed was born on March 22, 1973, in Bristol, Pa. Her mother, the former Joann Tunis, was a pharmacist and executive at the drug company Pfizer. Her father, William Reed, was a health insuranceconsultant.
Dr. Reed graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1995 and went on to the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a Ph.D. in immunology and a degree in medicine. She specialized in anesthesia and critical-care medicine.
She and Dr. Noorchashm met as graduate students and married in 2001. In 2011, both were offered teaching posts at the Harvard Medical School and clinical positions at its affiliated hospitals — Dr. Noorchashm at Brigham and Women’s and Dr. Reed at Beth Israel Deaconess. She treated victims of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, as well as the surviving bomber.
Besides Dr. Noorchashm, Dr. Reed is survived by her parents; her daughters, Nadia and Ava; her sons, Joseph, Joshua, Luke and Ryan; and seven siblings: Alison Perate, Andrea Kealy, Amber Trainer, Matthew Reed, Justin Reed, Daniel Trainer and Sarah Trainer.