Surgery For Spinal Tumor

A smile you will never miss when you see Rochelle M. She is in her 60’s with great faith. She had been suffering from severe pain, numbness and tingling and weakness in her arms and legs. No one can figure out that all of this was due to a benign tumor in her neck spine for years. A work up was done and the tumor was found and the tumor was removed. The surgery involved taking some of the back of the spine in the neck and reach deep in the spine and remove the tumor. The spinal cord was under pressure and the compression was removed. The tumor was benign and called meningioma. She did great and the tumor never came back. Few years later, she was found to have an aortic aneurysm, she trusted her vascular surgeon to take care of it before it ruptures. She died during the surgery. What a great lady, she always to come to the office with a daughter that she loved and grand children that she admired.

Rochelle M.’s daughter, Samantha tells her story. Rochelle had had problems for some time. “We had gone to God knows how many specialists and doctors,” says Samantha. “I think I started noticing symptoms in 1999, probably some three or four years before we finally got a diagnosis of a spinal cord tumor. My mother passed out and was taken to the emergency room. She’d had all these weird symptoms and all the doctors would ‘treat us and street us.’ I kept asking them to find the cause of her symptoms.”

Eventually Rochelle was referred to Dr. Ghaly, who ran a battery of tests. Initially he suspected hydrocephalus, a condition where the ventricles of the brain do not drain normally. “Dr. Ghaly did a lumbar puncture, and got very little fluid, so he started to focus on the spinal cord,” Samantha says. “He ordered an MRI of the spinal cord and found the tumor. He asked for the previous MRI’s that had been done, and said the tumor was on them as well. I learned a lot about medical tests. It’s not enough to have the test. It’s the quality of the person who reads them that counts as well.”

Dr. Ghaly said Rochelle needed immediate surgery. “It’s funny now looking back on it, but my mother and I were having this conversation about getting a second opinion, ignoring Dr. Ghaly who was in the room with us,” Samantha recalls. “He said ‘Ladies, the only decision is whether to do surgery tomorrow or the next day. We have a small window of time here or she will be paralyzed.’ We didn’t have time for a second opinion. Besides, he was the only one who found it!”

The worry before surgery was whether or not the tumor was within the spinal cord. Thankfully, it was not. It was encapsulated. “Dr. Ghaly came into the surgical waiting room, jubilant, saying he got it all,” Samantha says. “He showed me an MRI from before the surgery, and then one after, and it was amazing how the spinal cord had just opened up after the tumor was removed.”

Rochelle had no paralysis from the tumor or surgery to remove it. “We did have some problems with physical therapy, but Dr. Ghaly took care of those,” Samantha said. “She came home, thinking all we’d need was in home therapy. But she needed more than that. Taking care of her was too much for me, as I was seven months pregnant at the time. Dr/ Ghaly got upset and had his nurse make arrangements for therapy where they would pick my mother up and take her to therapy. Then they would return her home.”

Rochelle regained her mobility, only using a cane to walk if she was going to walk long distances.

But her medical problems were not over. Though the tumor was benign, she also had an aortic aneurysm, a bulging of the aorta usually necessitating surgery. “My mother was a Jehovah’s Witness and as such could not have a blood transfusion,” Samantha said. “Typically surgery to correct this causes severe bleeding. They decided to try and fix it with less radical surgery, but it did not work. So she was taken for the more traditional surgery. She suffered major blood loss and died.”

Samantha says she has no regrets about her pother’s medical care. “I felt she had really good care, and probably would not have recovered even with a blood transfusion,” she said. “She had made her feelings very clear to me and the doctors. It was he faith, and what she wanted.”

Samantha does, however, remember one difficult moment. “I had realized Dr. Ghaly was a very religious person,” she said. “But I was not prepared when he said he wanted us to pray. That’s just not the usual medical culture these days! We tend to see prayer as a last desperate thing. But it’s just his way.”

Samantha tells patients to have an advocate. “The patient should be able to just focus on getting well,” she said. “I became a terrific note taker. I got a PDA and transferred my notes to the computer. At the very least get a calendar. It will help in tracking tests and their results. There’s just so much to keep track of!”

Be sure to visit as often as possible when the patient is in the hospital. “I was there every day,” she says. “Get to know the nurses. I wanted to know everyone involved with my mother’s care.”

Samantha says she got five more years with her mother as a result of the spinal cord surgery. “It was worth every moment,” she said. “My mother took care of me, and I was honored to return the favor. I got five more years. That’s precious time. It’s nothing you can ever get back. She lived with me for 12 years. My kids loved having her around. They had another person to love them. Dr. Ghaly even talked with my kids. He explained the tumor to my son when he was only 3 or 4 about the tumor. I remember my son telling a fiend his grandmother had a tumor, and the way to get rid of it was to give them lots of hugs. I think Dr. Ghaly told him grandma would need lots of hugs, and he took it to heart.”

Samantha says her husband took care of his grandmother before her death. Her husband said he got to know his grandmother as an adult, and that was a different experience. “It was different to get to know my mother as an adult,” Samantha says. “I would not change a thing about having her live with me and my family.”