Rachel’s Story: New Awake Craniotomy Procedure Benefits Active Mom

Rachel Borger is always on the go. The 39-year-old mother of two from Dayton is constantly in motion from work to her children’s sports practices.

“It’s a hectic life,” says Rachel. “I’m always busy running the kids around.”

Rachel’s active lifestyle of being a mom hit a speed bump after years of experiencing what she believed were panic attacks and brief periods of blindness in her left eye.

“It happened after I gave birth to my daughter,” explains Rachel. “One day, I was at work and my coworkers called the medics during one of my episodes. If it weren’t for them, I probably would have let it go forever.”

After an MRI evaluation eight years ago, doctors discovered that Rachel had a lesion on her brain’s left temporal lobe - the area that controls a person’s speech and motor functions.

Rachel was on medication and visited her neurologist regularly. However, a routine MRI in 2020 found that the lesion on her brain had grown.

Rachel was found to be a candidate for a new awake craniotomy at Miami Valley Hospital – a procedure performed by Ania G. Pollack, MD, an MD Anderson Cancer Network certified neurosurgeon at the Clinical Neuroscience Institute.

“Rachel was the perfect case,” says Dr. Pollack. “She had a benign vascular lesion in the eloquent part of the brain that was getting bigger. Rachel had developed intractable seizures requiring more and more medications. Seizures and increasing doses of antiseizure medications changed her lifestyle and overall functional status.”

Awake craniotomies are frequently — but not always — used for primary brain tumors such as gliomas (including glioblastoma, astrocytomas, and oligodendrogliomas) as well as metastatic disease. Awake craniotomy may be performed if these brain tumors occur in the important part of the brain, such as frontal and temporal lobes. Patients who participate in an awake craniotomy also must feel comfortable with the idea of waking up during surgery.

“With this procedure, the brain is exposed, and we awake the patient,” explains Dr. Pollack. “We have special protocols to keep the patient comfortable. We wake up the patient and stimulate the brain prior to any tissue removal to avoid potential deficits after surgery.”

“When Dr. Pollack told me I was going to be awake, at first, I was a little nervous,” remembers Rachel. “However, I did my homework and watched plenty of videos to see that this was actually something that could help me even more.”

Dr. Pollack, along with Daniel Gaudin, MD, Ph.D., FACS, a fellowship trained neurosurgeon at Miami Valley Hospital, removed the mass on Rachel’s brain, as well as a part of the brain that had been causing additional seizures.

Rachel participated in two surgeries. The first surgery was the actual resection of the lesion and preparation for the seizure surgery; the second surgery was solely dedicated to her seizures.

The second procedure took place 10 days following the first, and Rachel remained in Miami Valley Hospital afterward for observation.

“I felt completely fine and was able to walk around and do some tasks on my own,” explains Rachel. “It took a little getting used to, but overall, it wasn’t as bad as I thought.”

Just a few months after her surgeries, Rachel says that her vision problems and other symptoms disappeared.

“It's like I never had surgery,” says Rachel. “It's so weird. There are so many people who have no idea I even had brain surgery, and when they found out they were like, “What?’”

Rachel cites the awake craniotomy for giving her the ability to experience activities she hasn’t been able to enjoy in years.

“I’m back to working out and going almost every day during my lunch breaks,” says Rachel. “This has given me back so much and I no longer experience excruciating pain in my head anymore.”

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