I had experienced headaches my entire life, and it became a normal part of my life. It wasn’t until I was 12 that I realized something wasn’t right. My headaches had increased in frequency and pain level, always located at the back of my head. I experienced fatigue, nausea, and loss of coordination and appetite among other painful symptoms. Over the following months, I grew accustomed to sharing my wide range of seemingly random symptoms with a long list of doctors. No one was able to diagnose me, though it was often brushed off as depression or “just being a teenager.” I was getting tired of hunting for answers, and my family was growing increasingly more desperate as my condition worsened.
It was near Christmas the same year when an MRI was taken. The results showed that I had a Chiari Malformation, a deformity where my brain and spinal cord sit lower in my skull, causing fluid to build up and cause my symptoms.
We searched the Denver area for a doctor that could give us some advice for how to treat me. Before coming to the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, we went to another. After a few visits, the neurosurgeon denied our request for surgery. He figured I was suffering from depression, based on a divorce my family had went through a few years prior. A recent unsuccessful surgery aided in the course of action he chose, waving away the severity of my condition. In my heart, I knew that was not the answer, because there was no reason I could be still so upset about that event. My parents refused to accept this either and we kept searching.
Not long after, we met Doctor Osterdock. I answered all the questions I had heard before and reviewed my MRI results. Nothing had changed this time around. So I was surprised, when my dad asked Doctor Osterdock her opinion, she responded with absolute certainty, “She’s going to need surgery if she wants to get better.”
My initial reaction was fear. Surgery was a very big deal and there was a risk of nothing changing. My second feeling was relief. Maybe I could be fixed and everything would get better. But my condition was rare and no one knew if surgery would make a difference. After a lot of discussion, we decided to go through with the operation. The date was set to July of 2012.
The morning of my operation came quickly. Right before I was wheeled into the operation room, I was warned that there was a probability nothing would change, since there wasn’t much research on Chairi. But I couldn’t handle living life in my current fragile state. I put on a brave face and let myself be carried away from my parents and into a different room. The last thing I saw before I went under was the smiling surgeon.
Surgery went swimmingly. I was under the excellent care of the hospital staff, all praying for my speedy recovery. I healed quickly and was discharged from the hospital after five days.
It’s been over a year since I came home a new person. While it took a few more days for me to heal completely, I found I was feeling so much better than I had in a very long time. The headaches are gone completely, along with the nausea, fatigue, lack of interest, and any other symptom I had been suffering with. My life has resumed better than before, the only limitation being I am no longer allowed to play contact sports. A small price to pay for my health. I’ve only experienced one or two headaches since, barely more than a prick in the back of my head.
I am very grateful for Doctor Osterdock and all the other members of the RMHC staff that encouraged and assisted with my surgery and recovery. It really changed my life a great deal.