Fisherman Hooked on Life After Brain Surgery
Joe Bruno’s balance issue was getting out of control, but he wouldn’t let it stop him.
“I kept tripping and falling,” said the 80-year-old Whiting resident. An avid fisherman, Joe had to sit down on the boat to avoid falling. “Everyone told me it’s normal to lose your balance as you age, so I just dealt with it.”
Joe even purchased balance bracelets to ward off the falls, but his condition worsened. Things got so bad that even getting out of bed was a risk. When Joe fell down a hill and landed flat on his face, he knew something was seriously wrong. Joe made an appointment with Antoine Chaker, MD, a board-certified otolaryngologist (ear/nose/throat specialist) at Community Medical Center, who ordered a brain scan and referred Joe to Richard C. Hartwell, MD, PhD, a board-certified neurosurgeon at Community Medical Center, who ordered a brain MRI.
The scans revealed Joe had a 1 ¾ inch meningioma tumor on the right frontal lobe pressing down on his brain. This type of tumor develops from the meninges, the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. As this type of tumor is typically slow growing, Dr. Hartwell ordered a scan in three months but advised Joe to contact him if he experienced any other symptoms.
“These tumors are common among older adults and because they grow slowly, surgery is often unnecessary. Instead, we usually monitor the growth of the tumor to assure that it is not growing and there will be no problems,” said Dr. Hartwell. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with Mr. Bruno.”
Joe’s condition worsened and he took a couple more falls. After a second MRI revealed increased pressure on the brain, he was scheduled for surgery the following week. But, three days later, as he and his wife of 60 years, Gerry, grabbed a bite to eat at a local restaurant, he had a seizure. Joe was immediately taken to the hospital and admitted overnight. Dr. Hartwell prescribed him with anti-seizure medication and scheduled Joe for brain surgery.
“I was frightened to death and wondered if I would be different after the surgery,” said Joe, “but Dr. Hartwell reassured me that everything would be fine.”
Dr. Hartwell faced three challenges in removing Joe’s tumor: although the tumor was benign, it was located in an area of the brain that controlled Joe’s left leg; the tumor surrounded important structures in the brain, and any injury to those areas could result in stroke or even death; and, because Joe is mostly bald, hiding the incision – an important emotional factor in helping a patient’s recovery – would be difficult.
To meet these challenges, Dr. Hartwell utilized two instruments to help assure the best surgical outcome. The first, intraoperative navigation, acts as a virtual reality program to store brain images, tracking the position of surgery in real-time to reduce the risk of stroke and assure critical areas of the brain aren’t harmed.
The second tool, an ultrasonic aspirator, helps surgeons remove the tumor without disrupting nearby tissue or harming the brain. To help Joe emotionally recover and minimize any constant reminders of surgery, Dr. Hartwell took extra care to close Joe’s incision as nicely as possible.
Just four days following surgery, Joe was discharged. He underwent physical therapy twice a week for four weeks and has since continued with exercises on his own to keep himself strong. Joe has regained all his strength and balance – including getting back to walking three miles a day – and no longer falls or gets dizzy.
Joe credits Dr. Hartwell with giving him a new life. “The last year was horrible as I constantly struggled. I’m a very happy man now with another 50,000 miles to go!” he said.
“Too many people don’t seek treatment because they have the misconception they are too old to undergo surgery. Older adults shouldn’t be frightened of treatment simply because of their age. The treatments we can provide for cognitive, memory, balance and walking disorders can substantially improve quality of life,” said Dr. Hartwell.
Joe echoes that sentiment, saying, “If you have a balance issue, don’t prolong it. Find out what’s wrong with you. It’s not old age!” Because he sought treatment, he’s back to fishing with his friends and is happy to stand – rather than sit – on the boat!
Joe describes the treatment he received at Community Medical Center as “unbelievable.”