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Following successful surgery to remove a brain tumor, Jane Waller is back to her busy life, which includes travel, nature photography, swimming and salsa dancing.
A vibrant 70-year-old who lives in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, Jane Waller has the kind of energy and enthusiasm you would typically associate with a much younger generation.
From photography to swimming to salsa dancing, Waller’s full life faced a shocking health challenge in 2015, when she was advised she needed brain surgery to remove a slow-growing tumor. Recently retired, Waller was busy considering travel plans and other adventures. Major surgery was not on her agenda.
Finding the Right Care Partner
Waller’s benign meningioma tumor had been discovered years earlier in a body scan. At the time, it was small and not causing any symptoms, so she was advised to monitor it for any changes through an annual MRI.
After nine years of scans and no changes, Waller said she was not initially alarmed when her last MRI revealed that the tumor had grown larger. Her NorthShore primary care physician Rhonda Stein, MD, directed her to have it checked out. The guidance led Waller to NorthShore Neurological Institute Surgeon Ricky Wong, MD.
From the moment Waller met Dr. Wong, she trusted him and was calmed by his professional and caring demeanor. “He had an exceptional kindness about him,” said Waller. “He never made me feel like he had anything else to do but answer my questions and help me understand the situation.”
The conventional approach to removing Waller’s tumor includes making a large incision across the top of her head and opening her forehead to reach it. But Dr. Wong offered something extraordinary and far less invasive. Using his expertise in advanced endoscopic brain surgery, he could take out the entire tumor through a 1-inch incision in Waller’s eyebrow known as a “keyhole” procedure, referencing the small entry point.
Using a model skull and green clay to represent the tumor, Dr. Wong used a pencil to show Waller how he would remove the tumor. He explained that there was already some swelling in her brain, and if the tumor was not removed, it would continue to grow.
“I thought about how I love to go for walks every day and how I love to take photographs,” Waller recalled. “It really made me think about my life and what I wanted for my future.” She asked Dr. Wong about the potential risks of surgery and talked it over with her son. Ultimately, she knew having the surgery was the right decision.
“Dr. Wong was so calm and speaks with such confidence, it really engendered a feeling of ‘I’m going to be OK,’” said Waller, who was able to complete a trip to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands before the surgery in April 2016. “I spent two months swimming in the ocean, dancing at night, enjoying the nature around me and came home feeling positive and ready to have surgery.”
The surgery took less than three hours, was completely successfully and did not even leave a visible scar. “I woke up in the Intensive Care Unit, exhaled and said, ‘Yes! I’m here!’ and I’ve been so grateful every day since,” she said.
“Experiencing something like this makes you realize how fragile life is. Having Dr. Wong as my surgeon made it so much easier for me not to worry.”
Ten years ago, minimally invasive keyhole surgeries were not even an option, and they are still only available at a small number of health systems across the country today. NorthShore Neurological Institute is the only specialty practice to offer it in the Chicagoland area.
“At NorthShore, we have a lot of experience with these leading-edge procedures, doing a handful every month. Now, with the advanced endoscopes, we can do even more. We also have exceptional neurosurgery nurses who are highly skilled and specially trained,” Dr. Wong added.
The Grainger Center for Simulation and Innovation at NorthShore provides another distinct advantage. The Center offers neurosurgeons like Dr. Wong an opportunity to simulate and practice the most complex procedures before they enter the operating room. “It’s a great training resource that allows us to really push the envelope and offer more patients minimally invasive procedures, which result in fewer complications and faster recovery times,” he said.
With brain surgery successfully behind her, Waller is now concentrating on making the most of her retirement and “helping to bring love and light into the world every day.”
“I really love NorthShore,” she added. “All of the doctors I’ve encountered are great, and the nurses and techs are so nice and friendly, too.”