Finnbogi Olafsson

An International Patient Finds World-Class Care in Boston

Finnbogi Olafsson

Drifa and Finnbogi Ólafsson with their granddaughter, Freyja

It’s not all that far from Reykjavik, Iceland to Boston – around 2,400 miles, less than from LA or London.

Not that distance was a barrier to 64-year-old Finnbogi Ólafsson. He is a businessman and facility manager at the National Gallery of Iceland. He and his wife, Drifa, have been married for 41 years and have three grown sons – Ólafur, Sindri, and Jokull – plus daughter-in-law, Dögg, and granddaughter, Freyja.

When Ólafsson was diagnosed with mesothelioma in the summer of 2011, there was no question where he would go for treatment. “I was fortunate enough to meet an Icelandic doctor, Tomas Gudbjartsson, who had worked at Brigham and Women’s Hospital nine years earlier and knew about the International Mesothelioma Program,” he said. “He knew of the IMP’s good reputation and insisted that I go to Boston because it is supposed to be the best program in the world. We also could have gone to Sweden, but luckily we came to Boston instead.”

Ólafsson’s initial symptoms were typical of many mesothelioma patients: a buildup of fluid in the chest and around the lungs. His surgery in October 2011 consisted of removal of the right lung, part of his diaphragm, and one rib, with heated intraoperative chemotherapy as part of the procedure. And his only real post-surgery complication was an accident. “I fell and ripped my spleen,” he said, “which slowed down the healing process. But other than that, everything went very well.”

Ólafsson credits the entire IMP team for contributing to his successful surgery and recovery. He was particularly impressed with the strong communication and the real sense of teamwork: “Everyone was informed about everything, and everyone – from the reception staff to the cleaning staff to the director – did their best for us.” His wife and sons benefited from the weekly IMP support groups, “and Charlene, the social worker, does more than you could expect of any person,” he said. “She has a special place in our hearts and we will never forget her.”

“Everyone was informed about everything, and everyone – from the reception staff to the cleaning staff to the director – did their best for us.”

Since surgery, Ólafsson completed chemotherapy close to home, and travels to Copenhagen for PET scans. “I’m feeling better every day and am getting more fit.” he said. “I’m starting to be able to work at the computer, do house work, hold my granddaughter, and I am being more socially active again.”

His near-term goals? One is to go back to work soon, “less than a year after my diagnosis.” Another is to “finish the garden house I started to build just before my diagnosis,” he added. A third is “to hike to the top of Mount Esja on the 17th of June, which is the independence day of Iceland.”

“In many ways, this experience has actually been positive,” he said. “For the first time in 20 years, the whole family went abroad together, and our time in Boston strengthened the bond between us all. We rented an apartment big enough for all of us to stay. I was in Boston for two weeks before surgery with my whole family, which was wonderful and will never be forgotten. Drifa stayed with me for seven weeks, but we always had someone with us – the whole family for the first few weeks, then Kristin, a good friend of ours, came for three weeks, then Ólafur, our oldest son, returned to bring us home. The best thing about this journey is to know how many good friends and family we have – people who were willing to do everything they could to help out. Also, the people of Boston were all very friendly and our experience with the city was wonderful. We felt like we were in small village in Iceland and not in a big city in the USA.”