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NeuroNow - A Stuntwoman's Most Fearsome Feat

NeuroNow Fall 2013

A Stuntwoman's Most Fearsome Feat

Date: November 11, 2013


Jill Brown found out that she had a large tumor crowding her brain after an accident on the job as a movie stuntwoman.
Jill Brown found out that she had a large tumor crowding her brain after an accident on the job as a movie stuntwoman.

For Hollywood stuntwoman Jill Brown, excitement and danger are just another day on the job. But nothing would prepare her for the frightening shock she received in April 2012. After a car crash while stunt-driving on a New York City movie set, Brown went to the local emergency room the next day to get evaluated. She wasn’t surprised to hear that she had a concussion. But her CT scan results also showed something Brown wasn’t expecting at all—a large brain tumor on the right side of her skull.

“The physician assistant said, ‘You have a large convexity meningioma,’” Brown remembers. “Nothing registered. I had no earthly idea what this woman was saying.”

Over the next few days, Brown would learn more and more about what those words meant. Her tumor originated in the lining that covers her brain. Pushing outward toward the skull, the tumor measured about 3 centimeters across.

The finding launched Brown on a flurry of consultations with doctors in both New York City, where the tumor had been diagnosed, and in Los Angeles, where she currently resides. Each new doctor was perplexed with how she still felt no symptoms with such a large tumor that had probably been growing for more than a decade. With each consultation, Brown became even more scared and confused. With no symptoms, it wasn’t clear that she’d need surgery for several years. But by the time symptoms showed up, Brown might have permanent deficits that would impede the quick decision-making and reflexes she needed for her job. Surgery itself came with its own risks that might equally hamper her career.

Eventually, a family friend who’d had successful brain surgery at Johns Hopkins called Brown and recommended neurosurgeon Alessandro Olivi. Brown wrote Olivi a letter and sent him her test results. A few days later, she received a call from Olivi’s surgical nurse, Deanna Glass Macenka. Macenka talked with Brown for over an hour, reassuring her about her fears and concerns and educating her about her tumor. At the end, Brown decided to do a phone consult with Olivi. It was during that phone call that Brown was sure she knew what to do: She’d have surgery at Johns Hopkins, and Olivi would be her surgeon.

“I didn’t know the outcome of this invasive procedure,” she says, “but I knew that I was in the best possible hands.”

Olivi knew what he needed to do as well. As the director of Johns Hopkins’ brain tumor division and meningioma service in the Department of Neurosurgery, he’s an expert on handling cases like Brown’s. On the day of her surgery in May 2012, he opened her skull and removed the tumor, along with a portion of the brain lining it was attached to. Despite Brown’s fears, the operation didn’t invade her healthy brain tissue, so her motor and cognitive skills stayed intact.

“She’s perfect,” Olivi says. “She has no neurological deficits whatsoever.”

Though Brown will need to get brain scans every year to make sure she remains healthy, the chances that her tumor will recur are very low—about 5 percent, Olivi estimates.

To watch a video about Jill’s story, visit http://bit.ly/Jill-Brain-Tumor.

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