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Experience

After Brain Surgery

By Charlotte Rothkopf
You might think Charlene Rothkopf’s bleakest health hour came the day doctors told her she had a golf ball–sized tumor on her brain.
An executive vice president of human resources for a Fortune 500 company, Rothkopf, then 56 years old, stepped into management mode. She found a specialist at the Johns Hopkins Hospital to remove the tumor, updated her will, and sat down with her husband and two grown children to discuss contingencies. Bad days indeed. But more were still to come. Doctors successfully removed the tumor, but postop complications sent Rothkopf into multiple surgeries over the next two years.
 
My worst day
I’m feeling the stitches pull apart, and the incision at the top of my head is opening up. The titanium mesh plate is visible to the eye. I go back to the plastic surgeon, and he stitches me up in his office and says, “This should hold it.” A couple of weeks later, it’s opening up again. 
 
What I did to get better
Thanks to a diagnosis from the hospital’s head of reconstructive surgery, it turned out that my head was rejecting the plate. So I had one surgery to remove the plate, and then for six months I had to wear a protective hat before I could have another surgery to put a new plate in. In total, it took five surgeries to figure this all out and for me to finally heal.
 
Me now
I know complications can occur with any surgery, and this was an unusual case, but the key was getting better communication and coordination across the disciplines within the hospital. I’m now co-chair of Johns Hopkins’ Patient and Family Advisory Council so that I can be a voice and a support for other patients. I have also obtained my Health and Wellness Coach certification and launched my own coaching and consulting business. As for my head, I get an MRI scan every six months to make sure the tumor hasn’t grown back. So far, so good.
Illustration of Charlene Rothkopf
Paul X. Johnson

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