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Recovering an 'unsalvagable' life
Used with Permission from:
May 31, 1996. A Publication for

Employees and Staff of the
Massachusetts General Hospital

AFTER YEARS OF MISDIAGNOSIS, unsuccessful treatments and brain surgery at another hospital, 53-year-old Catherine Atallah of Waterville, Maine, was, in the words of her former caregivers, 'unsalvagable'.

Atallah was living in a rehabilitation facility. Then she came to the MGH a year ago to consult neurosurgeon Robert Ojemann, MD, the man she credits with giving her the courage to face another surgery that would potentially allow her to resume a normal life.

"Dr. Ojemann is the Jimmy Stewart of physicians; honest, with a great bedside manner."

The problems began about four years ago, when Atallah says she started to feel a littlestrange. Her children began noticing that she was becoming reclusive, had trouble keeping her house in order and seemed depressed. She began seeing a psychiatrist and taking antidepressant medications. Then one day while talking on the phone with her son, David, Atallah had a seizure.

Cancer Resource Room

The room offers informational resources to patients and their families as well as MGH staff. Resources available include a touch-screen computer, videos, an Internet link to the National Cancer Institute and a wide range of books and pamphlets about all aspects of cancer.

The Cancer Resource Room is a pilot project of the Treadwell Library, The Network for Patients and Families and Social Services.

The Cancer Resource Room is funded by a grant from the Friends of the MGH Cancer Center.

A series of tests revealed the true cause of her changed behavior and seizure: a large meningioma, a benign brain tumor, which had grown to the size of a grapefruit. Menin-giomas, which develop from the protective covering of the brain, are rare; only one new case is diagnosed annually per 100,000 people. Because this type of tumor usually grows slowly and often becomes very large before causing symptoms, removal can be a tremendous challenge.

After surgery at another hospital, where only part of the tumor could be removed, and following a difficult recovery and months in a rehabilitation hospital, Atallah says she still was not able to care for herself or think clearly. She was living in a rehabilitation facility and faced the permanent loss of her independence and a life of needing constant nursing care.

Then Atallah met Ojemann, who suggested another try at removing the tumor that was still causing pressure on her brain. She overcame her reluctance and agreed to the surgery.

Today David says that seeing his mother function so well is heartwarming. Comparing the family’s experience at the MGH to the earlier experiences, David says: "It was like going from the minor leagues to the big leagues. There was a cohesive nature to the care at Mass. General; everyone knew what was going on with my mother’s case. Dr. Ojemann is the 'Jimmy Stewart of physicians ' honest, with a great bedside manner".

Atallah says that when she awoke from the surgery, she saw Ojemann at the foot of her bed. He asked if she knew who he was, and she answered correctly. "Dr. Ojemann looked like he was going to dance he was so happy," she recalls.

Today Atallah is again living independently in her own home, from which she frequently phones David for, thankfully, uninterrupted conversations.

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