Right place. Right time. Right neurosurgeon.
This crucial combination saved Gigi Siers' eyesight, nursing career, independence and even her hairstyle when a brain tumor nearly shattered her world.
"I owe my outstanding outcome, my quality of life and my future to being diagnosed and treated at this hospital at this time in history with this neurosurgical team," says Gigi, an RN and the hospital's clinical projects coordinator.
Right place: The University of Kansas Health System's Center for Advanced Brain and Neurological Care, where experts routinely perform complex, advanced procedures not available elsewhere.
Right time: 2013, when the hospital's neurology and neurosurgery programs ranked among the nation's best on U.S. News & World Report's prestigious Best Hospitals list.
Right neurosurgeon:Roukoz Chamoun, MD, a foremost authority on image-guided, minimally invasive procedures to remove brain tumors without opening the skull. In Gigi's case, he proved equally adept at "going old school" – performing a craniotomy to remove a walnut-sized noncancerous brain cyst.
Frozen veggies become pillow
Her journey began in mid-2012 when she was plagued with frequent and severe headaches. Soon the pain was so excruciating she couldn't sleep without bags of frozen vegetables under her head. By December, her head-splitting agony was constant.
Finally, a colleague marched Gigi in for a CT scan, which showed a shadowy area near her pituitary gland. Extensive tests and consultations with specialists followed. The verdict: A large cyst – a fluid-filled sac akin to a mini water balloon – had developed deep inside her brain.
If the cyst grew even marginally, pressure against the optic nerve could cause permanent blindness. Gigi needed brain surgery, and soon, to preserve her eyesight.
Gigi was terrified. Complications from her mother's brain surgeries in the 1980s left the once vibrant, keenly intelligent professional woman with no short-term memory, perpetually confused and unable to function more than a few hours a day.
"The thought of becoming mentally impaired and dependent was unbearable," Gigi says. "Who would take care of me? I didn't want my children to go through watching me decline. But Dr. Chamoun really listened to all my fears and doubts, gently explaining how brain surgery has advanced in 25 years."
Uniquely prepared for complex procedures
The surgery was challenging and complex, Chamoun explains, because the cyst was surrounded by critical structures: optic nerves, pituitary gland and carotid artery. Whenever possible, he prefers an endoscopic endonasal approach, which involves going through the patient’s nose. But in Gigi's case, a craniotomy offered a higher success rate and lower risk of recurrence.
To accommodate her insistence "to spare the hair," Chamoun painstakingly parted her locks strand by strand to create a precise pathway to hide the 10-inch incision from the top of her forehead to the back of her skull.
Returning to work barely 3 weeks later with her blonde flip still intact, Gigi appeared so healthy and unchanged some colleagues assumed she hadn’t yet had surgery.
"We’re the only center in the Kansas City area performing complex endoscopic brain procedures in addition to craniotomies," Chamoun says. "This allows us to give every patient the best treatment option according to his or her specific tumor."