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Thursday, July 25, 2024

Golf-ball sized tumour removal saves 68-year-old’s life

A Queensland neurosurgeon has saved the life of a 68-year-old woman after removing a golf ball-sized tumour from her spine in a high-risk seven-hour surgery at Mater Hospital Brisbane.

Leading Mater neurosurgeon, Dr Robert Campbell (pictured, below) performed the surgery on North Toowoomba retiree Deborah Nutter (main photo), and said the tumour would have eventually paralysed her if it hadn’t been detected and removed.

Ms Nutter says she had experienced tingling in her hands and had shoulder pain for a year before seeing her GP and being sent immediately for further tests.

An MRI detected the benign 21mm spinal meningioma, which doctors explained as a non-cancerous tumour that arose from the membranes surrounding the spinal cord.

“I would never have known the tumour was there had I not been sent for the MRI,” Ms Nutter said.

“Doctors told me it had been there for around 10 or 15 years.”

People with spine tumours can experience persistent and chronic back pain, numbness, burning and tingling sensations, loss of sensation in legs, arms, ankles, knees and difficulty in balancing. They can also experience bladder or bowel control problems.

Dr Campbell performed the intricate surgery on Ms Nutter using a 3D robotic microscope that provides a high definition magnified view of the impacted area.

“This was an ultra-high risk surgery despite the tumour being benign,” he said.

“There was limited view of the tumour because it was hidden by her spinal cord that had been stretched  ribbon-thin.”

Dr Campbell used an ultrasound ahead of the surgery to create a map of the tumour to navigate the best way to approach its removal.

“The tumour was accessible directly from behind where the spinal cord was or through her mouth above the tongue,” Dr Campbell said. 

“We operated from behind. If Deborah didn’t have the surgery, she would have slowly become paralysed and could have possibly died in her sleep.

“The position and size of the tumour could have stopped the brain signals from travelling below her neck, paralysing her body from the chin down.”

Ms Nutter said she was highly emotional in the lead up to the surgery as she came to terms with the serious risks involved.

“Dr Campbell prepared me for the worst. He told me upfront that the tumour was in a bad spot and I could end up paralysed from the neck down and on a ventilator if I did nothing about it,” she said.

“He asked me to have a think about how I wanted to continue life.

“Those words were really hard to hear. I prepared myself to be in a nursing home on a ventilator.

“The tumour could have killed me. Instead, Dr Campbell has given me a new lease on life.”

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