When 38-year-old Michele A. found herself struggling socially and emotionally, she knew she needed help. “I couldn’t sleep more than a few hours… I just wasn’t myself,” says the Rockaway Township resident and director of the dance program at Randolph High School.
“I had a full plate as a wife and mom,” Michelle says. “I had just finished a master’s degree in school counseling and have a full-time job.” Dizzy spells while teaching and piercing headaches that lasted days were misdiagnosed as stress; a seizure while driving was labeled a panic attack.
“But what I was experiencing,” Michelle says, “seemed more serious.”As her symptoms worsened, Michelle consulted a neurologist, who ordered an MRI. The scan revealed a tumor the size of an orange pressing on her brain. Michelle was told the tumor was likely benign, but she needed to go to the hospital immediately.
Michelle’s husband, Juliano, and her parents rushed to the imaging facility and drove Michelle to Morristown Medical Center, where neurosurgeon Kyle Chapple, MD, was on call. He had seen the scan and was ready to offer his support when Michele and her family arrived.
A Frightening Diagnosis
“As Dr. Chapple showed us the MRI, there was complete silence in the room,” recalls Michele. “That was the first time I saw how large the tumor was, and it was frightening.”
Dr. Chapple explained that the mass was an uncharacteristically large meningioma that had likely been growing slowly for many years. It originated from her sinus vein and grew into her brain. There, it pressed on her motor strip, an area responsible for movement, sensation and emotion. If left to grow, it could lead to permanent paralysis or even death.
Surgery was the best solution but, according to Dr. Chapple, was complex. “There were many critical structures impacted,” he says, “all of which needed to remain intact to provide Michele with the best possible outcome and quality of life.”
Expert, Compassionate Care
That night, Michele was transferred by ambulance to Overlook Medical Center’s Atlantic Neuroscience Institute. Home to the Gerald J. Glasser Brain Tumor Center, it’s the top-ranked neurosurgery hospital in New Jersey.
First, Dr. Chapple cut off the tumor’s blood supply to make surgery easier. The next day, in a six-hour surgery, he used data from the fMRI and intraoperative functional brain mapping (producing real-time 3-D imaging) to avoid critical brain structures and ensure the best possible outcome.
Dr. Chapple managed to remove the entire tumor. After several days in Overlook’s Neuro Intensive Care Unit, Michele regained all her motor skills. Because the tumor was benign and removed completely, she required neither radiation nor chemotherapy.“
Dr. Chapple and the entire staff had amazing compassion,” remembers Michele. “They were realistic and honest, but also extremely personable and caring. I went from being scared and angry to positive and hopeful during my stay at Overlook, thanks to the education, encouragement, and attention I received.”
“They were truly concerned about both my physical and mental health,” Michele says. She considers the small strip of hair they shaved on her head in preparation for the surgery. “They could have easily shaved my entire head, but were sensitive to the emotional consequences.”
At home, eager to return to her dance classes, Michele sleeps soundly, feels better every day, and works with a physical therapist to perfect the movements she choreographs into her routines.