30-Year Treatment an Inspiring Show of Faith

Iona Williams

Her headaches started 30 years ago. Just headaches, she thought. But as the number of pills increased and the pain became continuous and severe, Iona Williams sought medical advice.

“There were times I couldn’t see straight,” the East Chicago, Indiana, resident recalled. “I was being sent from doctor to doctor -- neuro this and neuro that. Nobody could give me an answer.”

A member of her church referred Williams to the University of Chicago Medicine, where she was seen by John F. Mullan, MD, the John Harper Seely Professor Emeritus in the Department of Surgery. He quickly found the cause of Williams’ pain: a benign tumor at the base of her brain.

“If the tumor grows slowly, the brain will make every effort to accommodate, but eventually there is a point beyond its tolerance to adjust and symptoms develop,” Mullan explained.

The sincerity that they have for their patients is outstanding.

The first surgery was May 19, 1982. Surgeons removed part of the epidermoid tumor. “Even though it’s benign, it’s in a very tricky area next to her brain stem where cranial nerves are,” said Maciej Lesniak, MD, director of neurosurgical oncology and neuro-oncology research at the University of Chicago, who currently manages Williams’ neurological care.

The first surgery relieved Williams’ pain. She took some time to “sort herself out,” but soon hit her stride. While working for the city of East Chicago, she returned to school and opened a boutique in her basement.

On a night in July 1991, the agony returned. “If you heard some strange noise in the air, it was me hollering,” Williams recalled.

She underwent a second surgery and radiation. “All I wanted was to get out of that pain,” she said.

Lesniak assumed care of Williams when he came to the University of Chicago Medicine in 2003. In 2008 she woke up temporarily unable to move. “The tumor had caused a buildup of pressure in the brain,” Lesniak explained. He placed a shunt in Williams’ head to drain the build-up of fluid in the brain’s ventricles into her stomach.

Now pain-free and unperturbed by the shunt, Williams, 65, recently marked her 30th year as a University of Chicago Medicine patient in 2011. She attributes her longevity to faith and the quality of her physicians, Mullan and Lesniak. “These two men stand out in my life as really remarkable,” she said. “The sincerity that they have for their patients is outstanding.”

February 2012


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