Patient’s Rare Brain Tumor Removed After Delicate 14-Hour Surgery

Paige Ballinger is glad to be feeling good.

Paige Ballinger had always been in good health. She had never been in the hospital for anything major in her nearly 50 years.  What the Springfield woman didn’t know was that ever since birth she had the equivalent of a time bomb in her head waiting to go off.A set of cells, which normally would be associated with the respiratory tract, had formed and gotten closed off in the space with the brain and the brain stem. And they stayed there quietly for decades before ever causing a problem.The trouble started on a Thursday morning when she woke up with a stiff neck. At first, Paige thought she had slept on it the wrong way. But when she moved her neck, “it just shot a pain up near my head,”she said.

“It was definitely a 10.”

Enduring the pain, Paige went to her job as a pricing coordinator at Lowe’s. She shrugged the pain off to the after-effects of a sinus infection or perhaps from a tooth that had been pulled recently. But after a few more days of crippling pain, she knew she had better get to a doctor.

After several exams, including two CT scans and an MRI, Paige met with Devin Amin, MD, a neurosurgeon with SIU HealthCare. After a CT scan, “we knew right away we were dealing with something that didn’t fit any of our typical patterns,” Dr. Amin said.

“We had a best guess of what it was but we couldn’t give her any kind of certainty without seeing it,” Dr. Amin said. An all-day surgery was scheduled with Dr. Amin working with Brian Russell, MD, a Springfield Clinic neurosurgeon.

“I was scared to death,” Paige said. “I was scared and nervous, but I wasn’t leaving there in pain.”

The procedure lasted for about 14 hours – from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. – to remove the tumor. Its size was small, no bigger than a thumb tip, but it was the location that made it challenging.

“It was in front of the brain stem so the only way to get a good look at it would be to come basically from the side, behind the ear and down on to the upper neck,” Dr. Amin said. “We had to work in a corridor that’s pretty heavily used by vessels and nerves and find a way to get safe access to it.”

Months later, Paige is glad to be free of the debilitating pain. “Who would’ve thought? It’s just one of those things that just kind of blows a person away,” she said. “You’re fine one day, and you wake up the next day in pain.”

Dr. Amin praised not only the surgical team but also the radiologists, citing the crucial teamwork needed to make it a successful and coordinated endeavor. Only a few dozen cases like Paige’s have been documented, he said.

“I’m glad it’s over,” Paige said. “And I’m glad I’m feeling good.”