Olivi's Dream Team
Date: March 1, 2008
The neurosurgeon and his group know how to prepare brain tumor patients for the long road to recovery.
When a neurologist in northern Virginia told Marisa Eickenhorst she had a brain tumor, she was so terrified she didn’t want to know anything about it. She didn’t want to read about it, she didn’t want to hear about it, and she certainly didn’t want to come to Johns Hopkins — it was just too overwhelming.
But she soon did come to Hopkins, and her anxiety gradually began to fade — once she met the man who would successfully remove her tumor, neurosurgeon Alessandro Olivi.
Olivi takes the cases no one else wants — cases that are exceptionally challenging or unusual. Eickenhorst, for instance, had a benign tumor called a pilocytic astrocytoma, a childhood tumor typically found in the cerebellum. She is 45, and hers was deep in a ventricle on the right side of her brain.
He is also one of few neurosurgeons to perform brainstem biopsy, a procedure that others might avoid because it is so extraordinarily delicate. “We don’t stop short just because the pathology is at the level of the brainstem. We think that is not the right approach for our patients,” says Olivi. “You’re better served by doing these biopsies because you get a definitive diagnosis.”
Olivi works closely with a team of intensivists, radiologists and highly skilled nurses in the Comprehensive Brain Tumor Center. His group is particularly adept at helping patients understand what lies ahead.
For Eickenhorst, the team took pains to prepare her, yet not to scare her. Olivi, for instance, described at length the anticipated events of her hospital stay. He appeared in her room early in the morning of her pre-op day wearing a suit, because he thought his scrubs might frighten her. Eickenhorst’s surgery was on March 28. Six days later, she was home, planning to return to her job as a business manager in mid-June after an uneventful convalescence.
For others, the road to recovery after brain tumor surgery can be long and hard. But with help from Olivi’s team, patients come to understand that the surgery itself is but a stepping stone — a passage of sorts — toward the definitive outcome. “When patients are prepared, they know what to expect, and they fight,” says Olivi.
Eickenhorst had listened and learned and with a better understanding of her case, gained new confidence. Today she is acutely appreciative of the team’s ability to manage patient anxiety — not to mention her surgeon’s expertise in completely removing her tumor. “What an experience! What a team!”
“These patients require an incredible amount of effort and expertise,” says Olivi. “I could not do this by myself, just with my techniques and my particular surgical expertise, without the help of this wonderful team.”
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