The Kindest ‘Cut’ of All

FSRMC treats 1,000th Gamma Knife® patient

Meningioma. Gamma Knife®. Both terms were foreign to Wes Petty.

The retired 75-year-old grocer had never heard of the medical term for the benign tumor growing inside his head, nor had he ever heard of the medical procedure to stop it in its tracks. All he knew was that if it didn’t stop growing, he could lose his eyesight.

So, Petty did the only thing he could do. At the direction of Paul Peterson, MD, a neurosurgeon at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, he underwent Gamma Knife radiosurgery at Thompson Cancer Survival Center. In doing so, Petty became the 1,000th patient to undergo the surgery, which really isn’t surgery at all – at least not in the traditional sense, because there is no incision.

Tiffany White, RN, BSN, OCN and medical physicist, Joseph Bowling, PhD, are both members of the Gamma Knife team that cared for Wes Petty.

“I can’t tell you what went on in that room,” Petty recalled. “But there was nothing to it. Absolutely nothing.”

The meningioma behind Petty’s left ear inside his skull was detected the way most benign tumors are found – incidentally – during an MRI or CT scan while searching for answers to other problems. For Petty, that other problem was unexplained falling.

“A little before the first of the year I started falling,” said Petty. “Busted a flower pot, fell in the bathroom between the commode and the wall, fell on the deck, fell in the kitchen. And that’s just some I remember. They kept trying to find what was causing it, ran every kind of test on me and one of them was an MRI of my brain. That’s when they found the meningioma.”

Meningioma is the most common form of benign brain tumor, springing from the meninges or lining of the brain and spinal cord. Ninety percent are benign, without symptoms and grow slowly. Usually, they pose no problems unless their growth begins to put pressure on the brain. Then headaches, vision problems or seizures might occur. But a headache alone is seldom a sign of meningioma.

When Petty’s meningioma was found, it was about the size of a blueberry, posed no threat and no intervention was needed. Six months later, it was the size of a cherry. “Basically, it had doubled in size,” said Petty. “So Dr. Peterson says, ‘It’s time to do something because where it is could affect your eyesight.’ I said, ‘What do you mean affect it?’ He said, ‘There’s a possibility you could go blind.’ So I said, ‘Well, let’s do something.’”

That something was Gamma Knife radiosurgery, a therapy available at FSRMC since December 2011 and used to treat tumors, malformations and other brain abnormalities.

Dr. Peterson, along with radiation oncologist Grant Clark, MD, and medical physicist Joseph Bowling, PhD, fitted a frame over Petty’s head to stabilize him. An MRI imaging study was fed into the Gamma Knife computer before targeting the meningioma with almost 200 beams of gamma rays on the lesion, hopefully shrinking or stopping its growth.

“The only time that I knew somebody was doing something was it felt like someone was screwing a screw into my head and I said, ‘Oh!’ and then I didn’t feel anything,” Petty said. “The next thing I know I’m up and ready to go home.”

While Gamma Knife is successful in 90 percent of cases, Wes Petty won’t know for certain the outcome of his treatment until at least a couple of follow-up MRIs. He is optimistic, however.

“I’m glad I did it,” Wes Petty said. “There’s really nothing to it. It’s no worse than an MRI.”

Petty’s wife, Barbara, said her husband’s falls and Thompson may have just saved his life. “It was a blessing that they found the meningioma because we would have never known it was there and it could’ve led to something much worse than it did,” she said. “So I guess the falls were to get everybody’s attention.

“I can’t express how wonderful everybody was at Thompson Cancer Survival Center,” she added. “They just treat you like friends. We couldn’t have asked for anything any better.”

Her husband, a survivor of melanoma, prostate and lung cancer, agreed, adding, “When I went to Thompson in ’98 with lung cancer, they were fantastic then – and they are still fantastic.”

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