Parkland Family Relies on Love to Overcome - Surviving the Nightmare of a Rare Tumor on the Spinal Cord
By Todd McFliker / October 1, 2015
Ependymoma is a rare, slow growing type of primary brain or spinal cord tumor that can occur in both children and adults. They are relatively rare in adults, accounting for 2 to 3 percent of primary central nervous system tumors. Ependymomas appear in different locations within the brain and spinal column. These tumors can be detected on a CT scan and MRI. They can be benign or malignant. The first step of ependymoma treatment is to remove as much of the tumor as possible. Radiation is usually recommended for older children and adults following surgery.
Five years ago, on September 14th, 2010 Parkland residents Mark and Lorraine celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in a place and under circumstances they'd never imagined they'd be. Mark underwent an eleven hour, lifesaving surgery at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami to remove a large benign ependymoma from the inside of his cervical spinal cord. In order to get to Marks spinal cord, a surgical procedure called a laminectomy was done first in order to create space by removing the lamina, the back part of the vertebra that covers your spinal canal. The tumor was completely resected by world-renowned spinal surgeon Dr. Barth Green.
Only weeks prior to the surgery, Mark, then 48 and healthy, saw a local neurologist for minor aches in his thighs, as well as tingling in his hands. He also suffered with terrible migraine headaches over a span of fifteen years. The "routine" doctor visit was followed up with an MRI. Three days later, Lorraine received the doctor's phone call explaining that Mark had an ependymoma in his spinal cord. It was a diagnosis that would change their lives forever.
Not only are tumors in the spinal cord quite rare, they are extremely challenging to treat. There is now significant success in removing tumors, while preserving patients' function and mobility due to the advancement of many surgical techniques. Although Mark's tumor was successfully removed, the task was extremely challenging due to the location within the cord and the fact that many nerves were wrapped around the tumor. Had any of these nerves been severed during surgery, it could have been life threatening. In fact, the doctor said that Mark's surgery was nothing short of a "miracle."
According to Robert P. Norton MD, Orthopedic Surgery Spine Specialist at West Boca Medical Center, who trained under Dr. Green, the most common symptom of spinal injuries is pain. Along with chronic pain, Mark lives with spasticity, muscle tone, and altered sensations from his neck down. An Intrathecal Baclofen pump was surgically implanted five months ago in Marks lower abdomen. Thin catheters now run up into the spinal column to deliver baclofen to aid in the decrease of rigidity and spasticity.
Fortunately, Mark and Lorraine have an amazingly supportive family. They just celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary. They always support and encourage one another. Perhaps most importantly, they never give up hope. "The physical and emotional rollercoaster we need to endure in order to get through something like this is not explained in any medical book. And it doesn't come with a survival guide," says Lorraine. "It takes true love, commitment and hope to make the best of a very difficult situation."
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