Brainstem Surgery: The truth about where I have been since June by Akiva Zablocki

Posted by : admin | On : January 5, 2007

December 6, 2005

the truth about where I have been since June by Akiva Zablocki (Originally sent as a email)


So this is going to be a really surprising email,  and for that, I am sorry; what can I say, I am full of surprises. You might be somewhat aware of my situation, than this email might just be to clear some things up. Or you might not have heard from me in a while because I have actually been away for a month. This email might be a little long, but I will explain what has been going on in my life and about my “near death experience.” I will try to make it sort, since it is not easy for me to type, I might be blunt and to the point, but that is the way I am.

In June 2005, six months ago, while leading a Birthright Trip in Israel I started to see double. Right after the trip, I did some tests in Israel, including an MRI of my brain. I found out then that I had a brain tumor (shock). I immediately flew back to New York, to see the “best” doctors in the world, and to figure out what to do. Most of them agreed that it looked like a benign tumor, and that it should be slow growing. The problem was that it was inside my brainstem, the most important part of the brain as far as functions go. This meant that it could not be operated on. The doctors advised me, since my only symptom was double vision, to wait three months and repeat the MRI. Their hope was that it would not grow, and that I can live many years with it.

Over the summer, I continued to develop symptoms (left hand and foot went slightly numb and weakness in whole left side). I came back to New York and went back to school. Trying to make believe everything is normal. I did a great job in hiding my symptoms and hardly told anyone in school. By October my left chest went slightly numb as well, and my voice had changed. An October 11th MRI showed over 50% growth in the tumor. Immediate action was advised by the doctors. Again, since the location was not possible to get to, most doctors were advising radiation. This would be a 7 week process of every day radiation on my brain; basically like putting my brain in a microwave for 7 weeks to see what happens. There was no guaranty that it would work, and there was enough evidence to show that it did not work on my type of tumor (JPA). There were risks and complications and I might need surgery anyway afterworlds. I was not very happy about this option, and a day before treatment was due to start, I canceled.

Out in Arizona, Dr Spetzler was the only neurosurgeon (cowboy? superhero?) that was confident he can get the whole thing our safely and leave me with minimal damage. After great deliberation I decided to go ahead and do it. I flew down there, and on Nov 8th. 2005, I underwent brain surgery.

My Hero, Dr. Robert Sptzler

I woke up five days later, and heard from my family, that because of a complication I had been on breathing tubes and machines for four days, I did not look or feel too good, but I was alive, and the tumor was out. Recovering has been slow, I spent another week in the hospital in Arizona, being nursed back to like by an amazing nursing staff.

Surgery left me with a lot of neurological disorders. The whole left side of my body is senseless. The right side of my face is paralyzed (so I only have a half a smile, and I cannot close my right eye, so no winking), my right eye is also paralyzed (so I see double and cannot move it horizontally); I now look like a pirate and wear and iPatch. I lost half my hearing in my right ear as well as my balance. The surgeon said he did not think that he permanently damaged anything, so he is hopefully many of these disorders will get better with time. I am optimistic and believe they will as well.

I transferred to NYU hospital for rehabilitation; they said I would be there for six to eight weeks. I had to relearn how to walk, talk, dress, shower and bake brownies. It was an amazing experience, and a bit harder then basic training in the Israeli IDF. It took me two in a half weeks but being young and a fast learner they kicked me out of there today, I can walk on my own, but with a cane. And I am pretty functional. I will have a house aid (I think that is like a House Elf) come to stay with me during the day to help me with the basics, and for the next few months I will be going to NYU for more therapy as an out-patient.

All and all I feel good, and after a month it is good to be home. My journey has just begun, and my life has changed forever, but I welcome the change and the challenge and I’m happy to be alive and to get back to my life.

I will end with some cheesy advice – like they say in Trainspotting, “choose life,” I can’t emphasis this enough. Life is short, and you never know what is out there, so enjoy it now. Do whatever you want to do, and only what you want to do. And stop doing things you don’t like. And wear sunscreen.

I wish you all the best of health and a happy holiday month.




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