FIRST BRAIN SURGERY
1990 - ACOUSTIC NEUROMA— I discovered my golf ball-sized ( 4 & 1/2 CM) brain tumor during a routine hearing exam at 19 years old a few days before I was to return to university. The tumor had engulfed the eighth nerve in my brain which controls hearing and balance. In the exam it became evident that my nerve was not responding. Next a MRI showed the tumor pressing on my brain stem, which controls many vital functions including breathing. Surgery became urgent as it was predicted that without it I could die within days or weeks. I was lucky enough to have the best surgeons, the late Dr. William House and the late Dr. William Hitselberger, operate on me. They were highly skilled and positive. We joined forces in visualizing an optimal result. During the craniotomy it was necessary to remove my eighth cranial nerve in order to remove the entire tumor.
About four days after surgery, I regained consciousness. We beat the 99% chance of facial paralysis associated with the large tumor I had, but saving my hearing was not possible. I lost all my hearing on the right side. While that was a big loss, I did gain incredible life perspective. I was reborn into a feeling of love for all and a deeper sense of purpose. But getting on my path wasn’t easy. I struggled with memory loss, I had to relearn how to walk, learn to adapt to single sided deafness and relearn how to learn. Fortunately, I was in a forgiving environment, still a student attending university. I prayed. I meditated. I did yoga. I studied and studied until I figured out how to make my brain retain and remember again. By the time I graduated, I felt pretty strong and started my journalism career at age 24. I never told anyone about my hearing loss or medical history because I was entering the very competitive field of broadcast journalism and I feared discrimination.
I did well, which I hope is encouragement that a broken brain can heal. I won more than 20 awards for my reporting including a National Edward R. Murrow, Lone Star Emmy and several Associated Press awards. I reported on-air for CNN and local news stations. I was selected for competitive fellowships including a Kaiser Media in Health Fellowship and the International Reporting Fellowship/Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. I started my own production company, Global Voice Productions, where we produced human rights documentaries from around the world. I was grateful everyday for the people I was able to meet and the experiences I had during my work. I found joy in trying to live a life of purpose and giving.
I became, as doctors labeled it, a “highly functioning” brain injured person. But despite my outward appearance to excel, I privately knew how hard I had to work to do so and sometimes mourned the abilities I knew I lost.
SECOND BRAIN SURGERY
2015 - CAVERNOUS ANGIOMA — Now, I'm in my 40s and I could not believe that I was facing a second brain surgery. I feared losing more of myself and I didn’t know if I had what it took to recover again. I didn’t know if I was ready for who I may become on the other side of a second brain surgery. Our brain is our control center. It controls our ability to think, our personality and even our movement. I did not want any more damage.
Like confetti floating in my head, I had developed malformations which bled several times. They were small enough to just make me feel very bad for days, but I recovered. On the fourth bleed the problem area became big enough that it could cause severe deficit or potentially be fatal unless I had surgery to remove it. After being diagnosed with a CT scan on the fourth bleed, I was told to get an MRI. For some reason, I tried to drive myself to my own MRI appointment and never made it. I got into a car accident which I don’t recall due to the severity of a concussion I suffered from the accident. I was hospitalized for close to a week for the concussion before having the essential brain surgery.
In the two weeks prior to surgery, I quickly began using my right brain to find the best surgeon, prepare an advanced directive, my will etc. And then I used my left brain to go into a deep mediation for more than a week in which I focused and visualized my brain healing. I saw the original “blueprint” of my brain being restored. I went from being anxious about a second surgery to being completely at peace. I saw the best for myself, but was okay to be “imperfectly perfect” if that’s what would happen on the other end.
In the Left Brain/ Right Brain Healing section of this website we will share more details on the tools I used and other potentially useful modalities.
Once again, the entire medical team was on board with applying positive thinking to the healing process. I even gave my surgeon a notecard to read, which he read as I was coming out of anesthesia in the Operating Room. The notecard said, “Your operation was a success, your brain is in perfect working order."
(Click the video to see what the medical team said about that moment. I shot this from my hospital bed about 5-7 days post-op on heavy pain medication so not my most eloquent interview :) )
I did feel my brain was in perfect working condition. Unlike my first brain surgery, I did not feel any mental deficit post surgery. I was beyond grateful! But, I was in a lot of pain. I had my surgery at the Barrow Institute in Phoenix, but when I returned home to Corpus Christi, I was unable to get the proper follow up care I needed. The answer from every physician was “narcotic pain killers.” I have always been conscious of what I put into my body and never liked to take medicines unnecessarily, but I was in so much pain that I could not get out of bed and I couldn’t stand not being able to participate in life. So I took a narcotic pain killer every day for seven months until I felt my soul disappearing.
At this point, with nothing left to lose, I went to India to try an Ayurvedic program. For close to three weeks I participated in this 5,000-year old methodology of natural healing based on balancing the body through diet and therapies. My pain level dropped by at least 85%. I no longer needed medication on a regular basis.
2018 - TODAY, I’m actively seeking to improve my brain through activities that trigger neuroplasticity utilizing both eastern and western methods. I’m learning to balance living a life of purpose and caring for myself simultaneously. This is the journey I’m presently on and this is the journey I will be sharing with you. While our paths are unique, I believe we can join together in sharing tools, inspiration and encouragement to not let adversity define us, but rather teach us how to best live a purposeful life with joy.
"I feared losing more of myself and I didn’t know if I had what it took to recover again. I didn’t know if I was ready for who I may become on the other side of a second brain surgery. Our brain is our control center. It controls our ability to think, our personality and even our movement."