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Pressure relieved: Arnold resident back to normal after brain tumor surgery

Loretta Wick

For much of the last decade Loretta Wick suffered from headaches, and every time she bent down she felt a pounding in her head.

“I just thought it was something I had to live with,” said Loretta, 43.

Worsening headaches led Loretta to visit an urgent care center in September 2015, where she was diagnosed with vertigo. A couple of days later, the problems surfaced again as Loretta was getting ready for her job at White Castle, where she serves as crew manager. This time, she asked her daughter to drive her to the hospital.
“I just felt off-balance, like something wasn’t right,” said Loretta, of Arnold. “A little lightheaded, and I couldn’t stand on my own.” 

She came to St. Anthony’s Emergency Department and was shocked by the results of the tests performed. They revealed Loretta had a brain tumor known as a posterior fossa tentorial-based tumor with obstructive hydrocephalus.

The tumor was compressing the circulation pathway of the spinal fluid, which caused a buildup of fluid in the brain, said Loretta’s doctor, neurosurgeon Fangxiang Chen, M.D., of St. Anthony’s Neurosurgery Specialists. Had it not been diagnosed and removed, it could have led to irreversible results such as a coma, which would have meant long-term nursing care and eventual death, Dr. Chen said.

An emergency bedside ventriculostomy was performed to drain the fluid, followed by surgery with Dr. Chen: a sub-occipital craniotomy with tumor resection.

“He saved my life,” she said.

Loretta’s tumor was not a common type, Dr. Chen said.

“It was in a difficult location known as the tentorium, extending above and below the tentorium with large blood vessels involved,” he said. “The surgery required dedicated skills and patience, taking about six hours.”

Dr. Chen tried to spare the bulk of her hair by shaving only the small area around the surgery site, behind her left ear, she said. And doctor and patient shared a lighthearted moment when Loretta, immediately after surgery, asked for the eyeglasses she always wears.

“He joked that I must be doing okay, because I asked for my glasses,” she chuckled. “Dr. Chen’s bedside manner was wonderful, and he took the time with me: he was compassionate. He was really caring, always asking how I was doing.”

Loretta was in the Intensive Care Unit for a few days after her surgery, then was moved to the Surgical Stepdown Unit. She remained in the hospital for about a week and a half.

“I didn’t really want to leave,” she said.

“In the past, St. Anthony’s kind of had a bad rap, and I was a little leery of going back there,” she added. “But it was close and I needed to go, and I’m really glad I did. They were very caring. I really recommend St. Anthony’s.”

Back home, she rested and slept in an upright position in her recliner for a few weeks because it was more comfortable that way. In February 2016 she returned to work part-time and was back to her normal work schedule by March. She’s also back to enjoying life, shopping, baking and just hanging out with her mom, Joyce Gotch.

“My mom has been really great with my recovery; she’s been my little saint since all of this began,” Loretta said. “I did have a six-month, follow-up MRI, and everything came out great.”

For now, she is cured, Dr. Chen said. He continues to follow up with Loretta annually, because the tumor can grow back. The last follow-up, however, shows no evidence of recurrence.