A Young Mother’s Fight Against a Brain Tumor
Like any mother of two small children, Maryana Rebeles could use a little time to herself. “My girls are my whole world, but I wouldn’t mind some alone time every now and then,” says the Aberdeen, New Jersey, resident.
The vibrant 28-year-old stay-at-home mom, originally from Krivoy Rog, Ukraine, fills her days taking Mia, 2, and Milania, 1, to the park, playing with their dog, Mister Misha, watching movies and spending time with her adoring husband, Doug, who works for a startup.
From all accounts, the Rebeles family is the picture of health and happiness. No one would ever assume that only a few months ago, Maryana had emergency surgery to remove a mass on her brain that nearly killed her.
A Day that Changed It All
On Monday, July 23, after a seemingly normal day, Maryana and Doug tucked their girls into bed at 8 p.m. Maryana had a headache and went to lie down in bed. Doug took a shower, then went to check on his wife. Roughly 20 minutes after that, their night took a turn for the worse.
“She shot up in bed and said the pressure in her head was too much,” Doug says. “She was burning up, started ripping her clothes off and pulling her own hair out, she couldn’t control herself.”
Doug immediately called 911, which reported there were no ambulances available at that moment. So he called his mother-in-law, Tatiana, to quickly get to their house to stay with the girls, got his wife into the car and drove 20 minutes to Bayshore Medical Center.
When they arrived, Maryana was coherent, but her pain was excruciating and worsening.
“Maryana described a severe headache, which is not uncommon in the ER, as we see a lot of migraines,” says Ryan Brennessel, D.O., who specializes in emergency medicine and was working in the Emergency Department that night. “But she said hers was the worst of her life, which not a lot of people would say, and she looked extremely uncomfortable. So it was concerning.”
In most headache cases, emergency staff would administer pain medication and wait for the patient’s symptoms to improve, but Dr. Brennessel wanted to see inside Maryana’s head, so he also ordered a CAT scan.
Within minutes, the results were in: A large mass on Maryana’s brain was causing fluid to build up, putting pressure on her brain. This build-up of fluid, called hydrocephalus, can cause brain damage and even death, so it needed to be drained immediately. Maryana was now in a comatose state and put on life support.
While Maryana was still unconscious, Howard Eisenbrock, D.O., placed a tube, or shunt, in her brain to alleviate the pressure and stabilize her for a transfer to Jersey Shore University Medical Center, where she would undergo surgery to remove the mass.
“Emergency brain surgery is not done every day for this type of tumor. A lot of people have them and are asymptomatic. But once symptoms start showing, people can die within minutes,” says Dr. Eisenbrock, who specializes in neurological and spinal surgery. “She was just in the right place at the right time.”
Meanwhile, Doug called a neighbor to watch the girls so that Tatiana could be with her daughter at the hospital.
“I was outside the room, on my hands and knees praying,” Doug says. “I told Tatiana that I wasn’t sure Maryana would make it, so she needed to be there. That was not an easy call to make.”
Maryana’s team of doctors and nurses tirelessly continued efforts to stabilize her. Just as Dr. Eisenbrock was suturing Maryana, the flight nurse arrived, ready to transfer her to Jersey Shore via helicopter.
“It was perfect timing,” Dr. Eisenbrock says. “There was perfect communication between the hospitals and all staff involved. In this situation, everything went exactly how it was supposed to.”
Once Maryana arrived in the neuro intensive care unit at Jersey Shore, William Maggio, M.D., who specializes in neurological surgery, took over her care. She was awake, alert and comfortable, but not yet out of the woods.
“When they told me I had a tumor on my brain, of course my first question was, ‘Is it cancer?’ They said it wasn’t, but it still needed to be removed as soon as possible,” Maryana says. “I was scared but also grateful.”
Because of the swelling on Maryana’s brain, Dr. Maggio waited a few days before performing her craniotomy. While they waited, she and her family prayed.
“I just had so much faith in my team and tried my best to stay positive,” says Maryana, whose long hair had now been completely shaved off.
Dr. Maggio’s surgery to remove the tumor, assisted by Dr. Eisenbrock, went smoothly. Maryana recovered at the hospital for another week before she was discharged and sent home.
Maryana’s life has returned to normal, but she struggles with short-term memory. “I used to be able to remember entire grocery lists in my head,” she says. “But now I have to write everything down or text Doug to find out what I’m forgetting.”
A few months ago, Dr. Maggio scanned her head, found the tumor is completely gone and cleared her for the next year. Maryana, a former tennis player at Rutgers University, plans to return to the court this summer. But mostly, she just wants to enjoy each day.
“I want to live life to the fullest, soak it all up, because you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” she says.
She also looks forward to spending just a few hours to herself. Some day.
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