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Grateful Patient Stories

Gary R. : Brain Tumor

” I truly believe that Dr. Kelly saved my life. “

– Gary R., Patient

Gary Roach

Gary R., 45, had been having headaches for years. After all, they were nothing a little Advil couldn’t cure, and Gary was too busy making movies for Clint Eastwood’s production company Malpaso to be held back by a little pain in the back of his head.

“About four or five years ago Clint was gracious enough to start giving me the opportunity to edit for him along with his long-time editor,” Gary said. “He loves giving hard working people in the business an opportunity. This was mine. I grabbed hold and have been editing his films with him now for the past four or five movies.”

Recently, Gary was given a chance to work on a film about Nelson Mandela and the 1995 South African Rugby team called Invictus. But on January 16, 2009, the headache returned and this time he had to turn to Daniel Kelly, MD, the Director of the Brain Tumor Center at the Saint John’s Cancer Institute at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica.

“The pain in the back of my head started to get worse and worse, and for the next few days no pain medicine seemed to help much at all,” Gary said. “On the night of the 19th, I actually woke my wife up in the middle of the night and told her that I felt like my head was going to explode and that I had to go to the doctor first thing in the morning.”

The next day, Gary went to see a doctor where he asked for an MRI. An hour after the scan, he received a call from the doctor. He had a brain tumor.

The large tumor was blocking his fourth ventricle, a fluid filled chamber near the base of the brain surrounded by the brainstem and cerebellum. Gary was told it needed to be removed right away. He was sent directly to a brain surgeon who simple told him that it looked aggressive and said he could fit Gary’s surgery into his schedule a little over a week later.

“It wasn’t till I got home that night and had to tell my children that I was going to have brain surgery and I had an aggressive tumor that it all started to sink in,” Gary said. “I was very scared and not feeling at all comfortable with the surgeon that I had just met.”

So that night, Gary researched all he could about brain surgery. He talked to his brother-in-law, who said that his sister recommended talking to Dr. Kelly and said she could get Gary into see him right away. Gary jumped at the chance and was able to get an appointment for the very next day.

“I met Dr. Kelly on the 21st, and I immediately felt comfortable,” Gary said. “Everything about him was very sincere and real. My wife and I new instantly that he was the man for the job.”

“Gary had an ependymoma of the fourth ventricle, a fairly unusual tumor in adults. It measured about 2 ½ inches, completely filling and expanding the 4th ventricle and extending down to the top of his spinal cord.” Dr. Kelly said. “Due to his severe pain, the large tumor size and its critical location with the potential for further blockage of cerebrospinal fluid, we needed to get him to surgery soon.” His surgery was scheduled for two days later.

On the morning of the surgery, Gary arrived at Saint John’s Health Center and was immediately put at ease by the staff. “From the moment I checked in, I felt totally comfortable with everybody that took care of me; the hospital was comfortable,” Gary said. “I was scared, but they were all very nice and very relaxed.”

Gary’s surgery involved a 3 inch midline incision extending from the back of the head at the occiput down to the upper cervical spine. To access the tumor, a small window was made in the occipital bone and the back of the first cervical vertebrae was removed. After opening the covering to the brain and spinal cord (the dura), the tumor was removed under microscopic visualization in piecemeal fashion. The lower portion of tumor stuck to the back of the cervical spinal cord was first removed. The larger portion was then removed by going under the under the cerebellum and following the tumor into the 4th ventricle. The tumor was extremely firm and partially calcified. Dr. Kelly was able to remove all but a tiny thin sheet of calcified tumor that was extremely stuck and embedded in his brainstem. Although lasting over 8 hours, the surgery went off without a hitch.

“Gary did very well after surgery. His headaches gradually resolved, he was up and walking within 2 days and functioning normally.” Dr. Kelly said. “His MRI the day after surgery showed we were able to remove about 98 percent of the tumor. Two months after surgery he began radiotherapy which is standard for this sort of ependymoma. ”

Gary has finished his radiotherapy treatments over 5 years ago and went back to work for Clint Eastwood in March editing Invictus, a movie he might never have had the chance to finish if it hadn’t been for Dr. Kelly. His most recent MRI in 2015 shows no tumor growth.

“I truly believe that Dr. Kelly saved my life,” Gary said. “He’s an amazing surgeon. I was so very lucky to find him.”