HOUSTON - A dramatic story coming to us from Houston Methodist Hospital, after a team of surgeons worked together to save a man's life. The doctors describe it as one of the most complicated cases of their careers. Now the man is waiting for reconstructive surgery, after they removed his massive brain tumor.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Chris DeHart was doing what a lot of us were doing. That is, trying to enjoy life, cherishing family, all while working in Morgan City, Louisiana. He headed to his doctor though, when he started having memory problems, never imagining a brain tumor would be his diagnosis.
"He goes, I really hate to tell you this, but your tumor is the size of a softball and it's in the front of your head right here. I literally had no symptoms whatsoever, other than a little bit of memory loss, and he was shocked. So then he turns around and tells me you need to find, and this is what scared me, he says you need to find the best brain surgeon in the country," says Chris.
That was a daunting task, but Chris and his wife set out on a journey to find help. Some surgeons turned him down, admitting it was too complicated. Others said he was inoperable, but then he found what he calls his Dream Team at Houston Methodist Hospital.
"We packed up and headed to Houston and immediately fell in love with Dr. Baskin. You know how they say if you don't have that warm and fuzzy feeling, you don't need to be there? He did! The confidence, the information he gave me and we just knew this was right where we needed to be," smiles Chris.
Neurosurgeon Dr. David Baskin with Houston Methodist Hospital reassured him, he was ready for the challenge to remove the atypical meningioma, but it would take three surgeons and their separate surgical teams to make this happen.
"This is absolutely a gigantic tumor. What's unusual about this tumor is, it grew into the skull. It squished his brain to the back of his head. Now why is this such a big deal? It's a big deal, because it goes into a lot of different places. So, taking out the tumor in the brain, this is a big deal, because you have to remove the tumor without damaging the brain, but then the entire skull (in the front) is destroyed! The tumor is in the scalp and the biggest problem is, it has grown down through into the nose," explains Dr. Baskin.
The tumor had also spread through Chris's eye sockets and into his sinus cavities. That means another specialist would need to help remove that portion of the tumor. Ears, nose, and throat specialist Dr. Mas Takashima with Houston Methodist jumped on board and started putting plans in place.
"How do we avoid optic nerves? How do we avoid the blood vessels? And so in the operating room, we have something called a surgical theater. It's a VR device with the patient's information all incorporated in it. We wear them and in three dimensions, we can spin around and see this nerve is involved, go around the corner and see how other tissue is involved," explains Dr. Takashima.
He goes on to tell us that they had to remove so much tissue, he got a rare viewpoint during the operation.
"I could see the neurosurgeon, standing at the head of the bed, through the nose! That enables you to conceptualize how big this tumor was," says Dr. Takashima.
Now a third team comes in to complete the intricate procedure. Plastic surgeon Dr. Michael Klebuc, also with Houston Methodist Hospital, explains why reconstructive surgery plays a critical role of taking out the tumor.
"When it's removed, it creates a situation that's not compatible with life, so you have the brain and the sack around the brain called the dura, and then it is in communication with the nose and the mouth, which of course are full of bacteria. And so if you can't provide some healthy tissue, a layer to separate those two areas - the mouth and the nose from the brain, then over a period of about 48- 72 hours, the individual would develop meningitis and probably not survive," says Dr. Klebuc.
That's why he used part of Chris's leg to help with that repair.
"We borrowed a segment of muscle from his thigh, along with a nutrient artery and vein that supply circulation to that, then restored its circulation," explains Dr. Klebuc.
He says the success of that move is the difference between life or death. They successfully pulled it off!
Around 50 people worked diligently in a well-choreographed operation that took 18-hours to spare Chris's life. He has now completed five surgeries at Houston Methodist and is now waiting on the tissue to heal.
"Right now, the spot on my head that you see that's sinking in, there is no skullcap there. There's no bone. This is directly a piece of meat between me and my brain right here. So, they want me to heal for at least another month and a half, two months, and then they're going to go and put a titanium plate in my head," says Chris.
Then after that, his doctor says it won't be obvious what Chris has physically been through.
His neurosurgeon wants this to be a story of hope for all!
"You shouldn't give up because medicine is undergoing an explosion of knowledge and explosion of technology and chances are there's somebody or somebody, somewhere, who can actually do what is said to be impossible, it's really not impossible! It just needs a lot of different sets of knowledge and lots of technology," encourages Dr. Baskin.
He says they have all of that at the hospital where he has worked for years. He's proud of what they can offer at Houston Methodist.
Now, Chris boldly wears a shirt from his grandkids, announcing "it was a toomah", the keyword is "was". His Dream Team made it a thing of the past and now Chris has a positive prognosis. After Chris' final procedure, he'll likely undergo radiation to zap any remaining tumor cells.
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