Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Beautiful Brain

As some of you may have noticed with the long duration between my posts I've been away from writing for a while.  I started this Blog when my wife and I had our first daughter Marissa, it was a perfect release for a Dad that worked from home.  Things changed dramatically when my wife Marla became pregnant with our second child Olivia.

Marla and I often joke to ourselves about how her pregnancies seem to be "a walk in the park" for her, with no difficulties.  This would've been true in the case of our second child if Marla would not have suffered a seizure the night before she had an emergency C-section.  It was the 4th of July 2011 and Marla had been suffering from    a bad headache all day.  We had been at a friends house earlier that evening to have dinner and to watch the fireworks form their back yard.  Marla wasn't feeling well so we went home so she could go to sleep to try to relieve her headache.  Marla went to bed and quickly fell asleep, I wasn't tired so I watched TV in bed.  From time to time as some pregnant women do Marla suffered the occasional calf cramp, and this seem to be the case that night because as I sat in the bed next to her she seem to take in a quick gasp of air that led me to believe that she was experiencing a calf cramp, I quickly realized that this was something else entirely different, Marla was in trouble.  Marla was having a seizure, and at the time I was so frantic that I did not recognize the symptoms of a seizure, the body becoming stiff as a board, problem breathing, incoherent to what was happening to her at the time, locked jaw, and unresponsive to anything I said to her.  Marla started to turn blue because she was on her back and her tongue was blocking her air way.  I tried frantically to get her mouth open to breath some air into her, to no avail, each second seemed like hours.  Many years ago I was a lifeguard at a water park and  from that training I though to myself I need to get her on her side because I need to protect her airway, fortunately I turned he on her left side which was also good for the baby she was carrying at the time.  Thankfully when I turned her on her side she started to take deep breaths, and the color started to return to her face, I was so relieved.  I was finally able to call 911 and get paramedics to assist me.  The paramedics knew it was a seizure right away from the description of events that I had given them.  It must have been quite a surprise for Marla to finally come to and see our bedroom filled with Fire department, paramedics, and not know why they were there, she had no memory of the event what so ever.  She was taken to the hospital she was pre-registered at to deliver our child, and I gathered up our 18 month old Marissa, and followed shortly behind the ambulance to the hospital.  Once I arrived at the hospital Marla was completely awake and alert considering the circumstances, and in disbelief of what had just happened to her.  I thanked the paramedics, and they told me that I had done everything right, and that I saved my wife's and our unborn child's life.  Doctors gave Marla something for her headache, and decided to do some further tests on her the next morning because her vitals were atypical for a pregnant woman suffering from what they thought might have been preeclampsia?  The next morning Marla was taken to another floor to have an MRI done, I went in with her because considering what had just happened the night before I wasn't letting her out of my sight.  They wheeled her bed into a receiving room where they made sure she didn't have any metal object on her (the MRI machine is essentially a giant magnet), then took her into the room where the MRI machine was.  The room was kept very cold, I was told it's because of the equipment in the room. They instructed Marla that it would take about 45 minutes to get all the scans that they needed, and to remain very still while in the MRI tube...which was a joke considering how cold it was in the room.  They covered Marla with warm blankets and started the test.  We returned to Marla's maternity room and awaited the results from the MRI, our OBGYN was giving us our delivery options of vaginal delivery or c-section pending the results of the MRI, she then left the room to check on another patient that was about to deliver too.  After some time our doctor did not return, but another doctor that we had never seen came to give us the results of the MRI.  We could tell by the somber look on his face that the news was not going to be favorable, but we had no clue as to the bombshell he was about to drop on us.

Marla's MRI showed a massive tumor on her right frontal lobe, the tumor was a little smaller than the size of a racquetball.  It was displacing the right hemisphere of her brain so much that it caused her to have a seizure.  The doctor was amazed at the fact that she didn't exhibit more signs that something was not right, but to us all her symptoms were consistent with pregnancy, even her occasional headaches.  Marla and I  by nature are positive people, and maybe by some grand design we didn't have a lot of time to be down about the bad news we had just received.  Marla and I decided that we were not going to let this news affect us negatively, and that we were going to deliver our baby via c-section and do whatever we needed to do to treat her for the tumor and move on with our lives.  At the time of the news of the tumor we had no idea if the tumor was benign or malignant, and the plan was for Marla to deliver our daughter that day, have a day of rest then they would resect the tumor to relive pressure on her brain.  Before the c-section procedure they ask if I wanted them to call a family member to be with me and I replied "no, the most important person to me in the whole world is in that bed, so please take care of her".  The c-section was completed without any complications, and Marla was taken to the ICU where she would recover for a day before having her tumor resected.  Marla was in good spirits after the c-sections, with some aches in her mid section that were consistent with the surgery.  The nurse brought our daughter to the ICU anytime Marla requested, they seemed to be especially touched by our unique set of circumstances.  The next day Marla had the surgery to remove a portion of her tumor.  The surgery last just over 3 hours, and when Marla was wheeled into recovery I was allowed to sit with her while the anesthesia wore off.  Marla was alert and doing fine, but was unable to move her arms and legs on her left side, because the tumor was located on the right side of her brain the removal of a section of the tumor affected the left side of her body.  Marla was doing well the night after the surgery, but suffered some swelling the next day and had to be placed on a respirator to allow her to rest and give the swelling of her brain time to go took 11 days for that to happen.  Marla spent a month in the hospital recovering and learning how to walk and talk all over again, and then another month in a rehab facility regaining her strength she lost after being bed ridden for a month.

Marla has always been a great inspiration to me because she is just such an all around good person, who is loved by all who know her.  She has worked her way throughout this entire experience with a grace and dignity uncommon to most, and never losing her spirit to overcome this situation.  While in physical therapy Marla started a 6 week radiation treatment that would cause her to lose her hair in the area the radiation was focused on.  Marla has long hair that went to just above the middle of her back, and was a source of pride for her, as it probably would be for any woman.  Near the end of the radiation treatment, about the 5th week, her hair began to fall out in the radiated areas in the front of her head.  Of all the things she had gone through up till that point, the loss of her hair seemed to have the most affect on her.  When Her treatment was done Marla had another MRI that showed she was tumor free...I could only think when I saw this new scan in contrast to her original scan "what a Beautiful Brain".  I seemed to be more deeply affected by this news because I had consulted with the doctors every step of the way, and was so deeply moved when I realized that the decisions the doctors and I had made worked.  Though Marla's tumor was gone she still needed to undergo chemotherapy for a 2 year period, she is doing great and in her second year of treatment...tumor free.

By the way our daughter Olivia is a vibrant, healthy, and very active little girl.  This entire experience makes you put life into perspective, and allows you to focus on what is truly important in  This is the first thing I've written since this event started, partly because I have my hands full with my wife and 2 girls, but also because it is difficult to relive those events because all the feelings that I experienced during that period come rushing back as if it happened yesterday.  I worry about her everyday, but she made a promise when this whole thing started that she would get better, and she has kept her promise...remarkable.  The doctors call her the miracle patient because of the progress she made in just 3 months, going from a tumor almost the size of a racquetball to a clean scan in such a short period.

I look forward to posting more of my experiences with my wife and daughters in the coming days, because they are a wonderful inspiration to me, and I always hope to live up to their expectations, and return all the love and joy they give me each and every day.

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