A summer to remember

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Two years ago Dana Crooks never imagined she’d spend her summer recovering from brain surgery

By The Staff

Editor’s note: Dana Crooks underwent surgery this summer in North Carolina and is recovering. She wrote this story because she wanted to share her experience.


During the summer, some people go on vacations in paradise or have family reunions to attend. Some people go on road trips across the country. Some get jobs to earn money for college or that new car they want. Others just want to make the best of it and enjoy the break from textbooks and piles of homework.

I’m Dana. I’m 14 and going into 10th grade this year. My plans began last summer when I was getting an MRI in Albuquerque. It was to check the pituitary gland in my brain because we were worried about my growth. The results revealed a normal pituitary gland; however, they found something no one ever expected to find.

The doctor explained that there was what appeared to be a tumor in my brain stem. Not knowing anything about it, the doctor recommended us to a neurologist at The University of New Mexico hospital.

The first neurologist we saw said this type of tumor is called an epidermoid cyst. Epidermoids are rare congenital cysts made of a sticky skin-like substance. Some people live their whole life unaware of them, while others experience symptoms such as headaches or trouble with vision and hearing. This type of cyst grows and can get stickier as it gets bigger. Sometimes if it’s not removed it can hit nerves and cause damage. If it’s too sticky doctors may not be able to remove it completely and it will grow back. Thankfully, it is not cancerous.

He said we should just monitor it since I had no symptoms yet. Also, the brain stem is a very difficult part to perform surgery on since there are so many nerves.

My mom was not convinced that was the right thing to do. She researched doctors and contacted other people who had an epidermoid.

This year I saw many doctors, each having their different opinions, but none of them stood out as much as Dr. Takanori Fukushima.

Dr. Fukushima is a world-renown Japanese neurosurgeon. He travels all over the world and saves lives everyday. His main offices are located in Tokyo and North Carolina.

During spring break, my family went to North

Carolina to meet him. When we walked in he had a little office covered in newspapers about his success stories. Dr. Fukushima sat us down and claimed that he is the number one neurosurgeon. He adopted the title as the “Tiger Woods” of neurosurgery, though he has had to lay off that motto lately …

He was confident and organized. He could tell us the exact number of cures he’s had and said that it would be an easy surgery for him to perform.

After lots of thought, I decided he was the best choice for me. So, we set up the surgery for July 14 at Duke Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.  He often teaches at the hospital and would be assisted by Dr. Gerald Grant. Dr. Grant would do the opening and closing of the surgery, while Dr. Fukushima would use his self-developed instruments to remove the cyst.

All your life you watch those people on TV and think, “that will never happen to me.” Then, the day it happens you don’t know what to do.

For a while I did not think about it much because I did not think much of it. I mean it was just surgery like I broke my arm or something, right? I did not think it was that big of a deal.

It never really hit me until the very morning of the surgery. There’s no way to describe how I felt. I was perfectly healthy right then. I had no symptoms. My insides weren’t spilling out. And yet, there I was, about to let them inside my head (literally). Then, I would have to face a long recovery. But it was just something I had to do, so I walked in and let them glue wires onto my head so they could monitor each nerve. Any little slip could damage my nerves and affect my sight, hearing, feeling, etc. I had to trust them with my life.

I don’t remember much of the first two days. I remember waking up and them taking the breathing tube out. I remember Dr. Grant checking on me after the surgery, while Dr. Fukushima was on a plane to Tokyo to save someone else’s life. I remember the nurses waking me up constantly and my parents coming in and out. Most of all, I remember the excruciating pain that never seemed to subside. I would have given anything for that pain to go away.

The surgery was four hours long and Dr. Grant believes that they completely removed it, but it can’t be certain until I get a MRI in a few years.

The surgery seemed to be the easiest part. There were all sorts of things hooked up to me. There were numerous IV’s, an arterial line so they could collect blood, a lumbar drain in my spine to drain out excess spinal flood and tons of monitors measuring who knows what. I had a little button to press whenever I was in pain so that they could give me medicine, though it couldn’t completely numb the pain. My head always ached and, of course, there were side effects from such strong medications. My emotions were uncontrollable and I think I saw the same room at least 20 different ways.

I was in the Pediatric ICU for two nights. In that time four children died. It’s scary realizing how short life can be. I was lucky just to be alive. I didn’t eat for three days and on the second day I went eight hours without an IV, meaning no pain medication. Still, each day some kind of monitor or tube came off of me. Each day I felt a little better, but it was not easy and it took a lot of determination to get up and get moving again.

As you sit in the waiting room and you look around, you see all sorts of people of all ages. Some sick with cancer, broken bones, or just a common cold. Then there are the worried parents and relatives just praying that their loved-one makes it through the night. Unfortunately, not everyone gets a happy ending.

We stayed in North Carolina for two and a half weeks until I was well enough to get on a plane. Unfortunately, brain surgery results with swelling in the brain. The swelling left me with double vision and fuzzy hearing. Of course, it also results with major headaches. It’ll take a few months to get better and feel like myself again. I’ll slowly get back to running and doing whatever it is we teenagers do, but it won’t come easy.

 I can’t explain every detail or say it in any way to get you to fully understand what it was like, but in a way I know what it’s like to be scared and hopeless. It was more than hard and I wouldn’t wish for anyone to go through it, but I am so lucky. I had the best doctors, the best nurses and my parents by my side.

Trauma changes people, both patients and parents. I realize that I don’t have to get straight A+’s or be the

No. 1 cross-country runner. I just need to make sure I enjoy every moment I have because I’m lucky to be alive and healthy. My mom told me in the hospital, “At the end of the day you could be anyone and anywhere in the world, but it doesn’t matter as long as your head hurts.” I see the world in a different perspective now. I’m not perfect. I whine and complain. I get angry and mean. I still want to be No. 1 and get frustrated if I’m not. But after brain surgery I see that there are more important things.

The world isn’t just rainbows and butterflies. There are people out there with lives that are harder than mine. I would love to go the Haiti or some place where people have lost everything. I just want to get out there and actually do something to help someone get a meal or have clean water, things we take for granted. We sit in our houses and watch the news on our flat screen TV about people who have nothing. I would like to visit patients in the hospital, to give them someone to talk to, to simply make them smile. Maybe it’s because I know how they feel or because I know how someone talking to you and making you laugh can make the pain disappear for a little while.

I’m so grateful for Dr. Fukushima and Dr. Grant. I’ve got my whole life ahead of me because of them and because of my mom for finding them. The opportunities are endless for me now. It was tough and there were some bad moments, but I made it! It’s definitely a summer I’ll never forget and a life lesson I’ll always carry with me. Now it’s time to start living my life.

Thank you Mom, you saved me. I love you.