When Christopher Weber of Fowler, Michigan, learned he had a type of non-cancerous tumor called acoustic neuroma, he already knew there was another approach besides open brain surgery to treat it.
Since 2007, Chris had had annual hearing tests and MRIs because of ringing in his ears. “In my left ear, my hearing was getting worse, and a feeling of pressure was building,” he said.
These were classic symptoms of acoustic neuroma, and sure enough, an annual MRI revealed a developing tumor on the nerve running from his brain to his left inner ear.
“When I met with my doctor, he told me he would set me up with a neurosurgeon to discuss open brain surgery,” Chris said.
Yet open surgery would be an eight- to twelve-hour operation with about six weeks of recovery. Luckily Chris knew there was another option -- the Gamma Knife at Midland, about 70 miles away from his home.
“My sister, Anne Marie, had received the same diagnosis in 2011. She found out through her own online research that treatment with the Gamma Knife® Perfexion™ was offered at MidMichigan Medical Center–Midland,” Chris said.
“She had a wonderful experience, so I was surprised my doctor only mentioned brain surgery,” Chris said. “A car dealer gives you options. Why not give patients options as well?”
The Gamma Knife machine uses computerized data to target 192 beams of gamma radiation directly at a tumor or other affected areas. The beams converge at the tumor to deliver a high dose of radiation while the surrounding healthy tissue receives a low, safe dose. The procedure is safer than open craniotomy and more precise than any other radiosurgery device.
Chris made one call to Gamma Knife Nurse Coordinator Dennis Ouillette, R.N., who was then with Chris every step of the way.
“Dennis and the staff were 100 percent top notch. You could sense their caring,” he said. “They told me what to expect, and I was comfortable with it because they did a good job explaining it. I trusted what they were telling me. The process made so much sense that I did not even think about having open surgery.”
Neurosurgeon Mark W. Jones, M.D., and Radiologist Rajesh Kotecha, M.D., met with Chris and reviewed his test results to confirm that Gamma Knife Radiosurgery was a good choice for his condition.
The day before the outpatient procedure, Chris and his wife, Lori, drove to Midland. The preparation and surgery, about two hours in all, took place entirely in the comfortable Gamma Knife suite on the Medical Center campus.
“They explained what would happen and made my wife and me feel at home in the little waiting room,” Chris said. He received intravenous medication to help him relax, while local anesthetic numbed four spots on his scalp to place pins that would hold his head in a frame during treatment.
An MRI was performed to guide treatment planning. “We watched TV while they confirmed their game plan, then the Gamma Knife treatment itself took about 20 minutes,” Chris said. “I was awake and calm the whole time and never felt anything. The halo frame kept my head precisely steady and rock solid.”
Chris and Lori drove home that afternoon, and in a few days – instead of six or more weeks – he was back to work at his job with GM, hunting, fishing, enjoying his family and getting ready to grow “just about everything” in his garden. In the years since his Gamma Knife treatment, he’s had no problems related to the surgery and no further hearing loss, and the pressure in his ear is gone.
“I want more people to know about Gamma Knife,” Chris said. “Tell them there’s another choice besides open brain surgery. Their lives and hearing are at stake.”
Gamma Knife® is a registered trademark of Elekta Group.