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Reaching a Buried Tumor
Deep-set brain tumor removed through minimally invasive surgery
Sue Moore was adrift.
She’d successfully balanced a 65-hour-week career, marriage and raising four children for decades, but in May 2016, she could tell something was wrong. It began with an unsteady walk that felt like she was on a boat. She didn’t think too much of it until she woke up in her Eldersburg, Maryland, home with the right side of her face completely numb, “like someone had put a menthol rub on it.”
Moore’s primary care provider sent her to get an urgent CAT scan, then called her before she reached the center’s parking lot to send her to her local emergency department. A quick MRI confirmed the presence of a growth next to her brain stem. She was transferred to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center on the advice of the emergency department physician. After an angiogram revealed a cavernoma—an abnormal blood vessel tumor next to her brain stem, she was kept overnight to watch for increased bleeding or swelling. She was told to keep an eye out for nausea, headaches and vomiting, which might be a sign of something worse to come. A week later, she woke up with a skull-splitting headache and vomited.
Unfortunately, Moore’s cavernoma was buried so deeply in her brain the risk of surgery was deemed too high without an immediate threat of rupture. After she spent several days in her local hospital for observation, she went home hoping that things would calm down. Less than a week later, she was back in the hospital with more vomiting. She turned to her husband Bob and said, “If I feel this bad when I wake up, take me back to Hopkins.”
Back at Johns Hopkins Bayview, Moore was assigned to Kaisorn Chaichana, M.D., director of brain tumor surgery. After reviewing her case, he delivered the bad news. “He said it was trying to kill me,” recalls Moore. The tumor had bled twice since her diagnosis, and there was a high risk of more bleeding, which could cause permanent disability or death. Despite the risks involved with surgery, especially due to the tumor’s location, Dr. Chaichana felt it was the only option to restore her quality of life.
Luckily, new technology was on Moore’s side. Dr. Chaichana has extensive experience with a cutting-edge device that allows skilled surgeons to remove deep-set brain tumors that could not otherwise be reached safely, all without damaging the brain. He spent over three hours removing Moore’s tumor through a small tube the width of a nickel. As her entire family crowded into a private room, Dr. Chaichana told them the good news. Just two days after surgery, Moore was able to return home.
New Outlook on Life
Moore’s family was by her side throughout the recovery process, even when that meant her children and husband unanimously agreed she needed to slow down. With their support, she realized “life’s short,” and decided to take some time off work for herself before ultimately taking a new position.
Looking back on her experience at Johns Hopkins Bayview, Moore remembers how surprisingly at ease she felt. “The nurses went out of their way to make my visiting friends feel comfortable. Everybody’s bedside manner was impeccable. Dr. Chaichana’s all the things you’d hope for. He made what should have been a horrible experience seamless, and I felt like I was the only patient he had.”
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