A Dramatic Journey
Laura Fox was fine when she got home from work one morning. A couple of hours later, everything changed.
“I was out of my mind and hallucinating,” says Laura, a Willis resident (near Ypsilanti and Belleville) who was then 58 and a pharmacy technician for Henry Ford Health.
“I kept talking to my husband David about family members he’d never heard of,” she says. “I even told him I had gone to my primary care doctor and filled some prescriptions, but when David called her, she told him I hadn’t seen her in six months.”
A shocking diagnosis, and then another one
Laura was adamant that she was OK, but David got her sister to come by, and together, they talked her into seeing someone. She was admitted to her local hospital, where they ordered a CAT scan and lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap. This procedure is done to collect cerebrospinal fluid from the lower back area of the spine. This fluid is then tested for infections and other neurological conditions.
After this testing, the team told Laura she had a skull base tumor located at the back of her neck, and the family knew they would need a referral to another specialist for surgery. They quickly settled on neurosurgeon Jack Rock, M.D., co-director of the Henry Ford Skull Base, Pituitary and Endoscopy Center.
“At one point, I do remember hearing Dr. Rock’s name, being an employee,” Laura says. “I had heard what a great doctor he was, and David did more research on him while I was in the hospital.”
Laura was rushed by ambulance to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, where neurosurgeon Max Kole, M.D., performed an angiogram (an imaging test that uses X-rays to evaluate blood vessels) to determine if it was safe to embolize the skull base tumor. Embolization is a minimally invasive procedure that is sometimes performed before a skull base surgery to cut off blood flow to a tumor.
The angiogram revealed that an embolization wasn’t safe. But when Dr. Kole brought in a computer and showed Laura and her family the results, he also explained that her skull base tumor wasn’t in her neck. The meningioma (a tumor that develops on layers of tissue that surround the brain and spinal cord) was located in her frontal lobe, not in the back of her neck as the referring health system had told them.
“We couldn’t believe it,” Laura says. “And the more we learned, we realized how serious this was.”
The team mobilizes
Skull base meningiomas are complex and require multidisciplinary involvement, and the Henry Ford team went into action. Laura’s case was reviewed quickly by both the Skull Base Tumor Board and Skull Base Tumor Conference, which collectively include Henry Ford Medical Group specialists from several fields. They determined the best treatment was to perform a craniotomy surgery.
This potentially high risk procedure involves removing part of the skull, giving the surgeon access to a specific part of the brain to remove the tumor, then replacing this section of bone.
“I don’t remember much about this time,” Laura says. “But I do remember I was mad that I had to get all of my hair cut off.”
The same day, Laura met with family members to draw up her power of attorney and will paperwork. They also met with several Henry Ford specialists, including neuro-ophthalmologist Barry Skarf, M.D., Ph.D. Laura’s skull base meningioma was attached to one of her eye’s nerves, making surgery even more challenging.
It was a whirlwind of activity, and only two days after being admitted to Henry Ford Hospital and getting her angiogram, Laura underwent her craniotomy procedure with Dr. Rock to remove the skull base meningioma.
Back to herself again
“I only remember waking up, with Dr. Rock telling me that the procedure was a success,” Laura says.
Dr. Rock had removed 98% of the tumor, with a very small residual amount of tissue left in an area that doesn’t cause symptoms. He told her that if there is any recurrence in the future, they can treat this with radiation.
Laura did have some temporary double vision issues after the procedure, and saw Dr. Skarf for follow-up appointments and treatment. She also had some temporary memory issues, and she experienced a postoperative seizure, so needed to go on anti-seizure medication. She also had to stop driving for six months.
“I was upset that I couldn’t drive,” Laura says. “It’s tough giving up your independence. But as soon as I could drive again, I went all out. I loaded up the car, took my cat to the vet, came home, went grocery shopping. I was killing it that day, but then ran out of energy.”
About a year after her surgery, Laura is feeling back to herself again.
“It’s been a long road to get here, but the alternative would be worse,” Laura says. “Without Dr. Rock and the rest of my Henry Ford team, I probably wouldn’t be alive.”