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Abbey’s Story: Inspired to Run Again After Brain Surgery

September 09, 2021

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Abbey with her neurosurgeon, Dr. DiPatri. 

Abbey was a three-sport athlete and sophomore in high school when she began to experience mysterious symptoms in 2018. She had difficulty running and moving one of her arms, and suffered from migraines, nausea and vomiting.

She saw a neurologist in her hometown of Braidwood, Illinois, who suggested she had anxiety. Anti-anxiety medication from a psychiatrist helped relieve Abbey’s headaches, nausea and vomiting, but she still didn’t feel like herself for many months.

Gradually, Abbey had difficulty walking and keeping her balance. On a family vacation in the summer of 2020, she jumped in the water to swim and was alarmed to realize that she could not tread water.

“It was really scary,” she said.

Once home, Abbey and her mother returned to the neurologist, who ordered an MRI. The scan revealed a mass on Abbey’s thalamus and cerebellum, causing her inability to move steadily and play sports like she once could. Only a biopsy could confirm whether the growth was cancerous.

“We then packed up to go to Lurie Children’s,” Abbey said. “It was August, and the start of my senior year. I was very anxious and I was a little sad because I couldn’t do any sports. I kind of went in not knowing what was going to happen.”

Lurie Children’s Brain Tumor Center offers highly specialized, state-of the-art care for children with brain tumors, the most common solid tumor diagnosed in children. Ranked 11th in the nation in Neurology & Neurosurgery and 15th in the nation in Cancer by U.S.News & World Report, the center is designed specifically to treat children with brain and central nervous system tumors.

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“In two weeks, I made a lot of progress," Abbey said. "By the time I left Shirley Ryan, I walked with a walker. But now I’m all back to normal, walking on my own."

When Abbey met with the Brain Tumor team at Lurie Children’s, she immediately felt like she was in capable hands – and on the verge of finding more answers. The team explained that she would need surgery, performed by Dr. Arthur J. DiPatri, to remove as much of the tumor as possible. After the operation, a biopsy revealed the growth was a rare form of low-grade tumor known as ganglioglioma. Gangliogliomas often grow slowly and do not spread to other parts of the body, but without timely treatment can develop into a higher grade, more malignant tumor.

Post-surgery, she recovered at Lurie Children’s for two weeks under the care of a team of highly qualified, compassionate nurses Abbey now considers lifelong friends and sources of inspiration. She then began intensive physical therapy at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab. Since the ganglioglioma formed on the part of the brain that controls motor and sensory function, her physical therapists focused on improving her balance and coordination.

“In two weeks, I made a lot of progress. By the time I left Shirley Ryan, I walked with a walker. But now I’m all back to normal, walking on my own.”

Today, Abbey is a freshman in college and finishing up her last round of chemotherapy at Lurie Children’s to treat part of the tumor left on her brain.

Inspired by the nurses who took care of her at Lurie Children’s, she hopes to become a pediatric nurse herself.

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Abbey with nurse Taylor and Advanced Practitioner Megan Urban. 

This September, Abbey will share her story with a community of runners, fundraisers and research advocates participating in Run For Gus, presented by Deloitte. The annual race raises money that helps advance treatment and research for children with brain tumors. Abbey hopes that by sharing her story, she might help someone in a situation similar to her own and build community with other children and teens with brain tumors.

With a newfound appreciation for her vitality, Abbey is also inspired to run again.

“Now, I’m trying to run because I didn’t run much before the surgery,” she said. “It’s still kind of hard for me to run, but I feel like I’m getting the hang of it.”

Learn more about Lurie Children’s Division of Neurosurgery