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An Inspiring Patient Story: Natalie, Resolved and Grateful

Aaron Cohen-Gadol, M.D.

September 12, 2021

College is a stressful time for all young adults. That is what I thought was getting to me while I was earning my bachelor of science degree at Baylor University, over 1,000 miles away from home. Twice while at Baylor, I experienced a loss of feeling throughout the entire left side of my body that lasted anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes.

Being a gymnast my entire life, I have always been healthy and conscious about what I eat and do so I can perform to the best of my ability. Of course gymnastics comes with its injuries, but I was blessed to not suffer anything that required surgery. I had only ever gotten my wisdom teeth removed. So, I thought that these numbness “episodes” could not be anything serious; I was only 20 years old.

Continuing my education at the University of Notre Dame to earn my master’s degree, I was much closer to home. When I went home one weekend, I experienced another numbness episode. My dad, who happens to be a head and neck surgeon, was in the room as I experienced what I was feeling and could see the fear in my eyes, as I knew this could not be normal. He quickly got me scheduled with one of his colleagues who was a neurologist.

Faith in a Surgeon She Could Trust

An MRI revealed a tennis ball–sized tumor taking over the right side of my brain. My dad immediately got me an appointment to see Dr Aaron Cohen-Gadol, internationally known for his technical skills and great outcomes for complex brain surgeries, to evaluate the next steps. This all happened so quickly, in the midst of still trying to earn my degree from Notre Dame, that I was not scared but, rather, had faith. I knew I was in excellent hands having Dr Cohen as my neurosurgeon; he made me feel very well taken care of through the entire process. Since this would also be my first surgery other than my wisdom teeth, I also had no idea what to expect. Surprisingly, it even made me feel a little more comfortable when Dr Cohen told me I would be undergoing an awake craniotomy. This would scare a lot of people, but given my circumstance, I found it to be pretty cool.

This was without a doubt the hardest thing I have ever had to go through, but in the back of my mind, I always knew everything would be okay and I would get through whatever came my way.

Roughly a year and a half after my surgery, at 23 years old, I have completed both radiation and chemotherapy and am in the midst of my second year of physical therapy school. Not even a brain tumor (low-grade glioma) could stop me. I even graduated from Notre Dame with my class on time, 3 months after surgery, and began physical therapy school right afterward as planned! After surgery, I did experience temporary left-sided weakness, which was expected due to the location of the tumor, but with the help of my physical and occupational therapists, I am back to doing what I love with very minimal deficits remaining.

I would not be where I am today without Dr Cohen and my oncologists. I am forever grateful for everything they have done for me, truly saving my life. This experience has given me a different outlook on life and made me very thankful that I am still here, healthy, and surrounded by such loving and supportive people.

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