77-year-old Old Bridge Woman’s Successfully Beats Brain Tumor   

77-year-old Old Bridge Woman’s Successfully Beats Brain Tumor

Carolyn Bongo

February 14, 2024

On May 16, 2023, Old Bridge, New Jersey, resident Carolyn Bongo, 77, was having a typical day. She drove to a department store, where she bought her nephew a gift for his upcoming birthday. The next thing she knew, it was early June, and she was recovering from brain surgery. “I don’t remember anything until I woke up at the hospital,” she says.

What Carolyn learned in early June is that she spent all of May 17 collapsed between her bed and nightstand. Friends of hers had tried reaching her throughout the day, but they couldn’t; one of them called one of Carolyn’s daughters, Kelli, who lives nearby.

Kelli tried reaching her mother by phone, but after getting no response, she went to her mother’s townhouse. Her mom’s front door screen door was locked, so Kelli couldn’t get into the house. She called the police department. Officers broke into the house and found Carolyn on the floor in her pajamas, only able to respond by squeezing an officer’s hand.

Sudden Symptoms from Slow-growing Tumor

When Carolyn arrived at the emergency department at Bayshore Medical Center, she was having continuous seizures. An MRI showed she had an orange-sized tumor on her brain, so she was transported to JFK University Medical Center, which houses two world-class institutions—the Hackensack Meridian Neuroscience Institute and JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute.

The pressure from the benign meningioma was causing the seizures, but up until that day, Carolyn had no symptoms. “A meningioma is a slow-growing tumor that starts from the covering of the brain. It can often get very large before it causes symptoms because it grows so slowly that the brain deals with it,” says Carolyn’s neurosurgeon, Yevgenia Shekhtman, M.D. “Everything's fine, then one day it just becomes too much for the brain to handle that pressure and swelling.”

The tumor affected Carolyn’s speech center in her brain, so she was unable to speak or understand speech. Additionally, she was unable to move the right side of her body. Her family was unsure if their mother would want treatment. “Carolyn really didn't look very good when she came in, and her family was assuming that in accordance with her stated living will, maybe she wouldn't want anything done,” Dr. Shekhtman says.

But Dr. Shekhtman told her family that by removing the tumor, Carolyn had a good chance of recovering. “We discuss all of our patients in our multidisciplinary tumor board meeting, so that way, we can give the family and the patient multiple opinions, including those from our radiologist, radiation oncologist, neuro-oncologist and other neurosurgeons on our team,”she says. With the input from the medical team, Carolyn’s family decided to go ahead with surgery.

Full Recovery After Tumor Removal

The goal of the surgery was to remove 98 percent of the tumor, Dr. Shekhtman says. As she explained to Carolyn’s family, the 2 percent that remained was in the central vein of the brain, which was too dangerous to cut out. An additional treatment for the remainder of the tumor was needed.

In October 2023, Carolyn returned to the hospital for gamma knife radiation, a procedure that uses targeted radiation to destroy tumor cells to stop tumor growth. There is a slight chance Carolyn’s tumor could regrow, but regular monitoring will be done.

Recovering the tumor was only half her journey. Carolyn also needed intensive physical rehabilitation, including physical, occupational and speech therapy. For two weeks after her procedure, she received all of those therapies in one location, which is located on the same campus as the hospital: JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute’s outpatient facility.

When Carolyn arrived there, her right side was so weak that she was in a wheelchair and was concerned that she wouldn’t walk again. But today, she is back to her usual self and was cleared to drive again six months after her collapse.

Her complete recovery has impressed her entire medical team. “She's awesome,” Dr. Shekhtman says. “She came to the clinic the other day. She had her makeup perfectly done and hair perfectly styled. I am so impressed.”

Adds Carolyn: “I really feel like I wouldn't have been able to come home without my medical team—and all of the prayers from family and friends—and, of course, myself, too. I was just determined.”

Next Steps & Resources

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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