Katy B.

Katy B.

It was late July and 28 year-old Katy was preparing to return to college. The only thing dampening her joy was a worsening headache accompanied by double vision. Her doctor ordered an MRI, and Katy learned the unthinkable: she had an inoperable, brain-stem glioma.

Wikipedia’s summary of this devastating tumor reads: “Brainstem glioma is an aggressive and dangerous cancer. Without treatment, the life expectancy is typically a few months from the time of diagnosis. With appropriate treatment, 37% survive more than one year, 20% survive 2 years, and 13% survive 3 years.”

The fulcrum on which Katy’s world rested now shifted - - dramatically, inexorably.

Days after the MRI, Katy started radiation treatments at St. Vincent Medical Center under the careful watch of radiation oncologist Eric Hanson. Because the tumor could not be surgically removed, radiation therapy was administered with the goal of damaging or shrinking the tumor. As often happens, some healthy brain cells were also damaged.

The tumor, radiation, and underlying myotonic dystrophy (a progressive disorder involving muscle
degeneration) all combined to send Katy’s health in a rapid downward spiral. She tearfully remembers the day she told her dad, “Please help me find the light. I am dying.” Unable to breathe on her own, Katy was placed on a ventilator. More complications followed: a heart arrhythmia (irregular heart rate), steroid-induced diabetes, a collapsed lung, a bleeding disorder. Katy was hospitalized at St. Vincent for nearly a month. Eventually she stabilized and transferred to Vibra Specialty Hospital.

Painfully aware of Katy’s poor prognosis, one of Vibra’s hospitalist quietly observed “This is a very bad tumor,” as though setting the solemn tone for what medical textbooks said lay ahead for young Katy. Vibra’s pulmonologist, too, was concerned, fearing that Katy would never be freed from the ventilator. Nevertheless the staff at Vibra worked tirelessly to strengthen Katy with vigorous physical, occupational, and speech therapy, and to reduce her dependence on the ventilator. Amidst tears of both sadness and joy, Katy was discharged home 2 months later, with round-the-clock care from her mother, father, brother Tom and Aunt Trish for Katy’s ventilator needs, tube feedings, medications, and all activities of daily living.

Although Katy did in fact have a long and protracted illness requiring subsequent hospitalizations, she took her first steps 9 months after her diagnosis. Two years later her feeding tube was removed, and the tracheostomy was surgically closed. Today, three years later, Katy continues to beat the odds.

For those who are superstitious, 13 is an unlucky number. For Katy, 13 is the most providential number there is, for she is among the 13 percent to survive, now 3 years after diagnosis.