By Danielle Bradshaw from In The Cloud Copy
Seventeen-year-old Marissa, from Clinton Township, Michigan, might be what most would consider a model student. She earns good grades and she really enjoys playing clarinet player in the school band. Marissa’s days, however, weren’t exactly typical of the average high school girl.
A Search for Answers
Throughout her life, Marissa suffered from headaches and at first, her parents – David and Kimberly – didn’t think that it was such a big deal. Over time, though, the headaches got worse and the family realized that they were much more serious than they’d originally thought. Marissa’s symptoms eventually got to the point that she’d vomit every day and had to take either Tylenol or Advil to stave off any impending headaches. If she didn’t, she’d be stuck dealing with pain that gradually became worse throughout the day.
The family’s first attempt to figure out what was wrong with Marissa was taking her to a town physician. The physician was worried about her increasingly worsening symptoms, which by this point included an accelerated heartbeat, but still didn’t really make her condition any clearer. David and Kimberly made the decision to take Marissa to a specialist in the hopes of finding answers.
Marissa’s parents were able to get her to Neena Marupudi, MD – the Children’s Hospital of Michigan’s pediatric neurosurgeon – to find out more about what the issue might be and what was causing it. After the tests run on Marissa were completed, it was discovered that she was suffering from Chiari malformation.
Chiari malformation is a condition caused by the patient’s brain being pushed down into the spinal canal; this results in immense pressure being placed on the spinal cord or lower brainstem. People with Chiari malformation have to deal with neurological complications such as neck pain, headaches, heart rhythm issues, dizziness, scoliosis, and issues with swallowing.
Discussing How to Treat Chiari Malformation
David says one option they’d been informed of to help deal with their daughter’s symptoms was surgery and that while Dr. Marupudi assured them that she could indeed perform the procedure, the recovery would be difficult and painful. When Marissa was presented with the option, though, she immediately opted for it. She was both tired of having to just deal with stopgap measures of dealing with her symptoms and relieved to finally know what the problem was.
How the Surgery Works
The surgery as described by Dr. Marupudi, is called a suboccipital decompression and is basically creating needed space for the cerebellum. This newly made space takes the pressure off the brainstem and upper spinal cord. To accomplish this, the back of the patient’s head is cut into and they excise a tiny portion of the bone at the base of the skull.
Marissa’s is a special case, as the protective cover of the brain – the dura – had to be opened. Her cerebellar tonsils were taking up much of the space needed to release pressure and were cauterized. Then, a dural patch (to cover the opening that was made in the dura for the surgery) was added to make more space around the tonsils to allow for better cerebrospinal flow to decrease the severity of her symptoms.
Although the surgery may not always get rid of the headaches, Marissa seems to have recovered well. Her headaches were the direct result of the lack of space at the base of her skull so there seem to be no lingering headaches. She was initially unable to play the clarinet before surgery because blowing into it created a lot of pressure in her head.
As time passed after her surgery, however, her headaches, vomiting, and headaches are now completely gone and she can play the clarinet painlessly. Marissa’s recovery was so incredible and swift, in fact, that she was able to play with her high school band just a month after surgery. Her parents are very grateful to both Dr. Marupundi and the staff and they say that Marissa is now on the path to working in the medical field herself.