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Charting a New Course

Abbey Lindee had it all planned: a fun afternoon of sailing with her nephews on Lake Bemidji in northern Minnesota.

But even before they left the dock that day in May 2012, the unexpected happened. Just as Abbey turned away from the sail, the wind changed directions. The boom swung around, hitting her hard on the back of her head.

“Everybody said I was awake and talking and acting normally, but there’s a pretty big gap of time that I don’t remember,” says the 21-year-old Bemidji State University student. “I was halfway across the lake before I realized what was going on.”

When the group returned to shore, Abbey felt nauseous and faint. A trip to the ER at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center indicated a concussion -- and more. A CT scan showed a dime-sized abnormality between her eyes and approximately three inches back. Doctors could see it had been there before the hit.

The incidental finding and concussion symptoms prompted follow-up with Dr. Judith Mills, Abbey’s primary care doctor at Sanford Bemidji. Dr. Mills involved Dr. Bala Davuluri, neurologist at Sanford Bemidji. His evaluation included an MRI.

“As soon as Dr. Davuluri got the MRI results back, he called and said I had an appointment two days later with a brain surgeon in Fargo,” says Abbey. “That got my attention. The words ‘brain surgeon’ made everything become very real.”

A difficult decision

Abbey and her mom learned much more at their first of many appointments with Dr. Timothy Lindley, neurosurgeon at Sanford Brain and Spine Clinic. They learned about different types of benign brain tumors -- some stay the same and never cause symptoms, but others can grow rapidly, causing lifelong impairments or even death. And because the surgery itself can be very involved and risky, the decision to operate on tumor like Abbey’s requires careful consideration.

“Dr. Lindley explained things really well and gave me straight answers. I liked that,” says Abbey. “I also liked how he set up a game plan. I always knew what would happen next.”

The plan included periodic MRIs as well as additional tests in Bemidji to check for tumor-related changes. After all the results came back, and after numerous, lengthy discussions with Dr. Lindley and her mom, Abbey made her decision.

“I wanted it out,” says Abbey. “I just didn’t like the thought of having a ticking time bomb in my head. At that point I still didn’t know what it was.”

Advanced option to remove brain tumor

The traditional approach to removing a brain tumor requires large incisions and a lengthy recovery. Disfiguring scars and permanent nerve damage can result. In recent years, two less-invasive surgical options have proven successful, but they’re not yet widely available. Dr. Lindley is trained and experienced in both.

One option uses the nose as the entry point for the endoscope and other surgical instruments needed to examine the area and remove the tumor. The other allows access through a three-inch incision in the eyebrow.

Dr. Lindley points out the benefits: “With these less-invasive options, we’re able to achieve all the same goals we hope to achieve with the traditional surgery, but with a much better cosmetic result and avoidance of some of the complications often associated with the bigger surgery.”

Abbey underwent an eyebrow craniotomy on Dec. 14, 2012, at Sanford Medical Center in Fargo. She chose that day because it followed her final exams at Bemidji State and her 21st birthday.

“I knew I’d be preoccupied with cramming, so I wouldn’t have time to freak out about this surgery,” she says. “With everything going on, I still passed all of my classes and even made the dean’s list.”

The surgery lasted three hours and went well. The tumor turned out to be a teratoma, a rare type of tumor with a high likelihood of growing and causing disability.

“I’m so glad the tumor is out,” says Abbey. “And sooner rather than later.”

Sunny days ahead

“Abbey has a bright future and a fantastic prognosis,” says Dr. Lindley. “She still deals with a few symptoms related to her concussion, but in terms of her tumor, the chances it will return are very low.”

Abbey will continue to see Dr. Lindley for periodic follow-up. She also works with Sanford doctors in Bemidji and Fargo to improve memory and processing skills affected by the concussion.

Abbey expects her sailing days may be less this summer because of work and summer classes, but she never drifts from her love and respect for the outdoors. Her dream is to own a couple thousand acres of land to establish a wildlife preserve.

In addition, she hopes to continue working to preserve the Ojibwe language, something Abbey has dedicated several years to already. But her future career goals hit much closer to home.

“I would love to have a career in the neurosciences, preferably neurosurgery,” says Abbey. “But I am very passionate in doing all of these things - some how, some day.”

If you need brain or spine care… Count on the experts at Sanford Brain & Spine Center. The Center brings together a multidisciplinary team of professionals, matching your specific needs with the best possible care. Talk with your primary care provider to get connected.

Posted Date: July 2013