Defeating a Brain Tumor

Normal life resumes for patient after neurosurgeon removes golf ball-sized meningioma

Dr. Bakhtiar Yamini and Gloria Fletcher

Most weekdays, Gloria Fletcher wakes up between 4 and 4:30 a.m. to exercise before going to work. But on a sunny spring day, it wasn’t her alarm but rather a throbbing headache and nausea that woke her. Glancing at the light coming through her window felt “excruciating.” The 57-year-old Park Forest, Ill., resident attempted to drive herself to a nearby hospital. Before reaching the emergency room, she pulled over and called 911.

“I was able to tell the paramedics what was going on,” Fletcher recalled. But by the time the ambulance reached the ER, she was in and out of consciousness.

Gloria Fletcher

After reviewing diagnostic scans, physicians told Fletcher there was a growth in her brain that needed to be surgically removed. On the advice of a relative, Fletcher transferred her care to University of Chicago Medicine neurosurgeon Bakhtiar Yamini, MD, an expert in the surgical treatment of all types of brain tumors.

The tumor in Fletcher’s brain was a meningioma, a lesion that develops in membranes, called meninges, which surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. The five-centimeter growth (a little larger than a golf ball) had formed on the top back at the right side of her head.

“Although the tumor was on the perimeter, it was ‘mushrooming’ into her brain and pushing into the region of her visual pathway,” Yamini said. “It was probably growing and so could become more and more difficult to remove. It had to come out.”

Gloria Fletcher with her daughters, Antoinette and Hollye

Gloria Fletcher with her daughters, Antoinette and HollyeFletcher (right) with her daughters, Antoinette (left) and Hollye (center); "They are my angels here on earth," Fletcher said.

Surgery was scheduled for two weeks later to give one of Fletcher’s two daughters, a U.S. Army major stationed in Germany, time to fly home with her family. Antoinette “Dee” Fletcher was undergoing mandatory training just a few weeks before her deployment to Afghanistan when she learned her mother needed surgery.

“I asked for Dr. Yamini’s assistance to obtain an emergency leave,” she said, “and the next day I got a call from my commander granting the request. Dr. Yamini’s quick response got me home for the surgery and recovery and I made it back in time to fulfill my obligations for deployment.”

Understandably, Fletcher was worried about having brain surgery. And she was concerned her vision would be permanently damaged. “Dr. Yamini eased my fears and calmed me down,” she said. “On the day of the operation, I felt peaceful and wasn’t afraid anymore.”

Antoinette and her sister, Hollye, were anxious but also had faith. “With mom’s fighting will, Dr. Yamini’s skillful hands and God watching over both of them, we knew she would be perfectly fine,“ Antoinette said.

Brain scans before and after the tumor removal Left: Pre-operative image of the five-centimeter meningioma on the perimeter of Fletcher’s brain. Right: Fletcher’s brain after neurosurgeon Yamini removed the golf-ball sized tumor.

When Fletcher woke from the four-hour surgery, she glanced up as her two daughters walked into her room and said, “Hi Dee. Hi Hollye.” Both were surprised their mother was talking and calling them by name so soon after a brain operation.

Fletcher moved out of the ICU in less than a day and went home just three days later. After recuperating for six weeks, she returned to work as a quality assurance specialist and resumed her early morning workout routine.

Reflecting on her experience, Fletcher said, “I wouldn’t want to go through it again, but I had such good care. It was a pleasant stay in the hospital. Someone was always there when I needed help. From the doctors and nurses to housekeeping, the whole staff was good to me.”

October 2013

Fall 2013 cover of Imagine magazine

This story originally ran in the Fall 2013 issue of Imagine, a quarterly magazine published by the University of Chicago Medicine.
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