A ‘Magical’ Marathon Moment

Terminal cancer patient Mark Carles, 27, fulfilled his greatest wish: to see his brother cross the finish line at the NYC Marathon.

David Carles’s moment of triumph at the 50th New York City Marathon on Sunday didn’t come when he crossed the tape. It was the moment he saw his brother, Mark, cheering him on at the finish line.

Mark, 27, a former long-distance runner who has terminal liver cancer, felt the same joy as David, his older brother. “I don’t think I’ll ever be more proud in my life than I will be this Sunday when you cross that finish line and I get to hug you,” Mark told David, as the two celebrated the news that he would be able to leave the medical ICU at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center to watch the race.

Mark Carles gets ready to go to the Marathon

The care team at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia prepare to take Mark to the finish line at Central Park.

“I can’t thank you enough,” Mark told Dr. Kristin Burkart, who has been caring for Mark in the ICU and was the one to share the good news.

Says David: “We’re so thankful to the entire team at NewYork-Presbyterian for taking such good care of Mark and our family and to everyone who helped make this happen.”

Mark was transported to New York City’s Central Park by ambulance, accompanied by a team of two critical care paramedics, a critical care nurse, a critical care nurse practitioner, and his pulmonary critical care doctor, Dr. Burkart. In coordination with city officials and the NYPD, the hospital had arranged for Mark to be brought to the finish line, so he could witness his brother achieve a dream they’ve been working toward for three years.

“It’s going to be a magical experience,” says Mark who has been helping David train for the race that he had hoped to run before his diagnosis.

The siblings had promised to make the most of their time together after Mark was diagnosed with fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma, a rare liver cancer, in 2018. David’s running of the New York City Marathon has been a team effort born out of brotherly love. “Mark has pushed me through so much,” says David, 28. “He’s been putting me through a rigorous training regimen through rain, snow, and sleet. The time is finally here.”

Defying the Odds

Growing up in Staten Island, the two brothers were serious athletes: Mark ran cross-country and David played baseball, and both competed in their respective sports throughout high school and into college.

Carles Brothers

In February 2021, David (left) shaved his head in solidarity after Mark (right) lost his hair during chemo treatment.

Mark, who ran 20 to 30 miles a week before his cancer diagnosis, had experienced abdominal discomfort since college. When the pain got unbearable in 2018, he went back to doctors, who discovered a tumor. Soon after, he was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer, and it had spread to his pancreas, stomach, pelvis, small intestine, and gallbladder. Doctors said he had three months to live.

The cancer was terminal, but Mark was ready to fight. He underwent chemotherapy to combat the cancer, but when scans showed the tumor had grown, he needed even more aggressive treatment. In February 2019, Mark underwent a 16-hour surgery led by Dr. Tomoaki Kato, chief of the Division of Abdominal Organ Transplantation at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia, who removed the seven-pound tumor. Last year, Dr. Kato operated on Mark again, removing more tumors to help prolong Mark’s life.

“Mark owes Dr. Kato his life,” says David. “I owe Dr. Kato my life, just for saving Mark twice, in the operating room, and giving Mark the courage and reassurance to continue with life has been truly a blessing.”

Team Effort

The fact that Mark had a front-row seat to the marathon is a testament to his will — and how much he inspires everyone around him. When Dr. Burkart, a pulmonary critical care doctor at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia, asked Mark what she could do for him, his answer was immediate: get him to Central Park on Marathon Sunday. “I paused because right now he’s in an intensive care unit, and it’s not very easy to get somebody out of the hospital, even for short periods of time when they’re not in the ICU,” says Dr. Burkart.  “And then I reached out to hospital leadership, and we decided we were going to try to make this wish happen.”

“This is a man who has been through more than most people can imagine,” says Dr. Burkart. “He really has inspired the entire team caring for him in the ICU.”

Mark also got a special visitor last week when he was woken up by Dr. Kato, who had news: He too was going to run the marathon. “He gave me his bib number and he said, ‘I look forward to seeing you at the race’,” Mark says. “So, it’s going to be a really exciting day.”

On Sunday David was fueled by inspiration from his brother, who was with him every step of the 26.2 miles. When Mark saw David cross the finish line he said “time froze.”  “It means everything,” says Mark. “All those runs that he would wake up for. All those runs I used to wake up for — they all paid off. We did it.”

Adds David: “It’s fitting because a marathon is how we’ve looked at life these last few years. Mark was diagnosed with his cancer three years ago and everyone was telling us that it was going to be a very short sprint, but Mark has turned it into a very long marathon.”

At A Glance

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