Cheryl D’Aries got a diagnosis wrong, but who can really blame her?
She was only a brand new hospital receptionist, and the patient was herself.
Recently hired, East Hanover resident D’Aries, 54, attended a new
employees’ orientation at Saint Barnabas Medical Center last September
and happened to sit next to new President and CEO Stephen P. Zieniewicz. The new
director of thoracic surgery for RWJBarnabas Health, Subroto Paul, M.D., was there too. She says she left the session “feeling really good
about being part of Saint Barnabas.”
But she wasn’t feeling so well—physically—a few days
later. On Sept. 26, she began the day “just a little off.”
Driving to work, she pulled over to call her husband to tell him something
was wrong and discovered she couldn’t talk. “He asked if I
was OK, and all I could get out was ‘No!’” she says.
She drove herself to her office at the medical center and signaled to
her co-workers to bring her a pen and paper. “I wrote S-T-R—,”
she says. “I thought I was having a stroke.” Doctors in her
office rushed to her aid and called 9-1-1. She doesn’t remember
the next two days.
It wasn’t a stroke. Tests soon revealed that her symptoms were caused
instead by a malignant tumor in her brain that had traveled from a primary
tumor in her lung, perhaps related to her history of smoking. Following
treatment at Saint Barnabas, she is feeling much better.
Because D’Aries’ brain tumor was solitary, she was a good candidate
for surgery, says
Otakar R. Hubschmann, M.D., chief of neurosurgery. It did worry him that the tumor was in an area of the brain responsible
for speech and movement, but new techniques, some of which were developed
at Saint Barnabas, improved her chances of avoiding long-term disability.
Using state-of-the-art, real-time magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-based
frameless stereotaxic neuronavigation, Dr. Hubschmann and his team were
able to precisely pinpoint the lesion’s location. “A computer
creates a 3D-image of where the lesion is, and we then measure several
distances along the curve of the skull to find the exact spot,”
he explains. This allows him to make a small opening in the skull. He
then makes a tiny, 1-centimeter (less than ½-inch) incision in
the brain itself, minimizing damage to surrounding tissue. An ultrasonic
aspirator is inserted into the brain to emulsify and then extract the tumor.
After she awoke, D’Aries learned that she had just had brain surgery.
“It was surreal,” she says. “But I knew I was in good
hands. I had the ‘A’ team and guardian angels above me and
Her speech came back quickly, and over the next few weeks follow-up scans
and pathology reports continued to show that the surgery had gone well.
“I kept getting good news, and I felt great,” says D’Aries,
who lives with her husband, Michael, 57, a contractor, and has four children
ages 17 to 27. “My family yelled at me for doing laundry and cooking
when I should have been taking it easy.”
She still needed lung surgery. So she walked every day to boost her strength.
Three weeks after her brain procedure, she had her lung lesion removed
by Dr. Paul—who remembered her from the orientation a month earlier.
“She was sitting right next to our new CEO, so I kept seeing her
there,” he recalls. “What an odd constellation of events to
bring her to me as a patient!”
Dr. Paul was able to remove the tumor using a minimally invasive approach
that required just three small incisions. She left the hospital the next
day. “She was one of the fastest-recovering patients I’ve
ever had,” he says.
Cheryl D’Aries is flanked by her doctors, Subroto Paul, M.D. (left)
and Otakar R. Hubschmann, M.D. (Not shown is internist Tobi Ippolito,
M.D., who also treated her.)
Now six months removed from the surgeries, she says she feels great and,
even though her
cancer was Stage 4, her prognosis is excellent. “I still stutter
a little when I am excited,” she reports, but otherwise she has
a lot to be thankful for. She returned to work March 1, and in July she
and about two dozen members of her family are taking a vacation in the
Dominican Republic to celebrate her good fortune—which began, she
believes, when she became an employee and attended that orientation.
“One part of the presentation that day was about how you never know
what people are going through, so you should treat everyone with compassion
and kindness,” she says. “We have to wear our name badge over
our heart to represent this idea, and I thought that was great.”
The way things turned out, the medical center staff quickly proved that
that sentiment was more than just words. “Everyone at Saint Barnabas
showed great kindness to me and to my family and friends—I will
be forever grateful,” says D’Aries. “Now I’ll
be able to see my daughters walk down the aisle.”
To find out more about services available for you or your family at Saint
Barnabas Medical Center, please call 888.724.7123.