|Albert Lodocivi, Juneau, Alaska|
Albert Lodovici lives in Alaska and loves the outdoors. When his back started aching before Christmas, the 51-year-old attributed it to the perils of middle age. But the pain continued to worsen. An MRI revealed a growth in his spinal cord between the fourth through twelfth vertebra, a long, skinny, benign tumor called an ependymoma.
“His was one of the largest tumors I’ve ever seen,” says Dr. Trent Tredway, the UW assistant professor of neurosurgery who spent six hours extracting the 12-centimeter-long tumor from Lodovici’s back.
The surgery began with a six-level laminectomy to first remove spinal bones. Then Tredway opened the dura (the tough covering around the spinal cord) and entered the spinal cord along the midline. “This is very precise surgery,” Tredway says. “Veering off the midline could cause any number of problems for the patient, including paralysis or dysfunction of the bowel and bladder.”
In addition to the neurosurgeon, the neurosurgical team at UW Medical Center includes an electrophysiologist and neuro-anesthesiologist, who work in concert to insure that the removal of a tumor doesn’t infringe upon or disturb the nervous system. Some ependymomas are resectable (removable), while others are not, depending upon their location and the ability of the surgeon to reach them without injuring the patient. But if the surgeon can remove the entire tumor, there is a good chance of complete recovery.
Some of these tumors are “like acorns falling from a tree,” Tredway says, and can metastasize in the lower sacral spine. “But we were able to remove all of Mr. Lodovici’s tumor,” he says, which was verified in a post-operative MRI.
Six months after surgery another MRI will make sure it’s gone, and no further treatment, like chemotherapy or radiation, will be needed. After surgery, Lodovici experienced some numbness and spent over five weeks in rehabilitation with physical and occupational therapists.
“I went home in late January,” Lodovici says. “By May I was back to work four hours a day standing on my own two feet. It will be a year or more before I’m completely recovered, but I’m getting better.”