Every day clinicians and patients at Rush face moments of great challenge and great inspiration. During the holiday season, they’re sharing what they are thankful for and how their experiences at Rush have inspired them.
By Marvin A. Rossi, MD, PhD
When clinicians in the past told my patient, Tiffany, that there was nothing more they could do for her, she and her family didn’t give up hope. Tiffany has been battling health issues since infancy. At 13 months she developed a brain tumor. She had brain surgery and radiation by age 5. Although the tumor was gone, the scarring from the surgery impaired her right-sided brain function, which started causing problems for her as a teenager. She started suffering through complex partial seizures — staring spells — and severe persistent vomiting. Anti-epileptic medications did not help her seizures and she had zero quality of life.
She came to Rush after doctors from large, well-established medical centers across the country told her there was nothing more they could do for her. But here at the Rush Epilepsy Center, we utilized cutting-edge diagnostic technologies and got to the root of her problem.
Elaine with her two granddaughters, Zoe (left) and Sydney
By Judy Germany
When I learned that Nina Paleologos, MD, was coming to Rush University Medical Center to join the Coleman Foundation Comprehensive Brain and Spine Tumor Clinic, I felt a jumble of emotions. Dr. P, as a lot of people call her, will always be inextricably linked to one of the worst periods of my life — the 20 months during which my beloved stepmom, Elaine, was diagnosed with, treated for and succumbed to brain cancer. Dr. Paleologos was Elaine’s neuro-oncologist, so the only times I ever saw here were during Elaine’s appointments, and it’s impossible to separate my grief from the doctor who delivered the news that caused that grief.
But at the same time, I’m thrilled she’s here. She provided outstanding care for Elaine — not just the clinical trial that kept the tumor from growing back immediately, as aggressive brain tumors will do if left untreated, but the empathy and honesty she showed our family. One thing I’ve learned working at Rush for the past 13 years is that the term “good outcome” doesn’t always mean the person recovers fully and goes on to live a long and happy life. For brain cancer, a good outcome may mean the person lives an extra three months, or six, and has more quality time with his or her family. The median survival for patients with glioblastomas like Elaine’s is 18 months from diagnosis; Elaine exceeded that, but even more important, she had a really good quality of life almost the entire time. She didn’t experience significant decline until the last 1-2 weeks, and right up to that point she was living her life, absolutely convinced she was going to beat this wretched disease. She never talked about dying; she spoke of the future as if it were guaranteed.
In an area of medicine that many might view as bleak, Byrne finds inspiration, a sense of reward and hope. In addition to buying precious weeks or months for terminally ill patients, he contributes to research into these deadly cancers, hoping to see progress in treatment within his lifetime.
“What keeps me going is the fact that there are a lot of people who need us. Most of them come to us desperate and scared,” said Byrne, whose penetrating gaze and low-key presence convey both intensity and calm.