High-tech operating room helps reclaim a life
In just three months, 17-year-old Harrison Linsky went from being a picture-perfect high school junior to a lethargic, reclusive teenager. Starting in September of 2009 with what seemed like a normal cold—a runny nose and cough—Harrison’s health began to rapidly deteriorate.
Over time, the captain of the Garces Memorial High School football team and star student developed seizures, short-term memory loss and continuous headaches so painful that all he wanted to do was sit in a dark room.
When it came to the point where he could only remember five minutes of his 75-minute class, and he had to leave school early every day, Harrison’s parents wondered if he’d suffered a concussion during a football game. “Harrison plays the line,” explains his mother, Jeannene Linsky. “I remember watching him at a game thinking he looked like he was moving in slow motion, as if he were slugging through mud.”
Jeannene quickly arranged an appointment with their doctor in California, who ordered an MRI scan that showed a tiny lesion on his right frontal lobe. The family was referred to UCSF Medical Center (UCSF), where they diagnosed Harrison with an infiltrating lesion/mass, likely a low-grade glioma. Because it was so small, they were not confident that the tiny mass was producing such dramatic symptoms.
Further, because of its location, surgery would be risky. UCSF recommended waiting a few months to reassess the situation. “Our son was so active,” says Jeannene, “and his life had completely changed. It was impossible as a parent to do nothing.”
So Todd Linsky, Harrison’s father, researched top pediatric neuroscience centers and contacted Nicole Ullrich, MD, PhD, a pediatric neurologist at Children’s Hospital Boston, for a second opinion. Working with the family, Ullrich collected relevant personal data and diagnostic scans to present at the Pediatric Brain Tumor Program’s weekly Brain Tumor Conference, attended regularly by nearly 25 specialists including pediatric neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuro-oncologists, radiologists and radiation therapists, among others, from Children’s and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
“This multidisciplinary Brain Tumor Conference gives us the ability to capitalize on our collective expertise,” she says. “We consider everything—symptoms, pathology reports, imaging scans, available technologies and treatments, information from families and potential outcomes—in making treatment decisions.”
INtraoperative image showing resection from the center of the lesion.
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Liliana C. Goumnerova, MD, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Children’s, agrees. “As a group, we determined that Harrison’s tumor could be causing the symptoms,” she says. “Further, we felt that surgery in our Intraoperative MRI was an option because the images would help us confirm we were in the correct location and prevent us from damaging or removing any part of Harrison’s eloquent cortex.”
In late December, the Linskys flew to Boston for Harrison’s surgery, where they met their Children’s doctors in person for the first time. Goumnerova credits the Intraoperative MRI for Harrison’s successful eight-hour operation, which included both surgical and scanning time. “I was completely guided by the images because there was absolutely no difference between the tumor and surrounding brain tissue,” she says.
Harrison had a dramatic improvement right away. Within days, he was discharged from the hospital and cleared to go home, although the family chose to stay in Boston through the New Year. On January 4, 2010, Harrison returned to California, where he started school the next day.
“It’s like night and day,” says Harrison. “Before surgery, school was really hard. I was so lost, and I couldn’t focus.” With the ongoing support of the entire Garces Memorial community, Harrison has completely caught up on his studies and boasts a 4.2 GPA. “I had a few month hiccup, but now I’m fine. No headaches, no issues.”
The Linskys are grateful to have found their way to Children’s. “There isn’t an Intraoperative MRI on the West Coast,” says Jeannene, “and the Children’s team looked at the big picture, including our concerns about Harrison’s quality of life and future.”
There’s just one more thing Harrison needed to hear to get back to normal: that he can play football again. On March 25, three months after surgery, he received the good news from Goumnerova—news that surely left him smiling the entire 3,000-mile flight home.