In just a matter of weeks, Jamie Mariol and Ronnie Hitchings, of Massillon, went from having mild concern about their 4-year-old daughter, Raven, not using her left hand as she typically did, to learning she had a golf-ball size brain tumor. Before they could process this “deer in the headlights moment,” as Jamie called it, Raven would be heading into surgery less than 24 hours after the results of her MRI.
But at this time of peak anxiety for their family, Jamie said they felt Raven was in the best of hands with pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Tsulee Chen and her team at Akron Children’s Hospital.
“She thoroughly explained everything to us before the surgery, and during the 6-hour surgery, a nurse came out in intervals to keep us up to date,” she said. “We greatly appreciated the care of the whole staff.”
Raven’s surgery was a success – the tumor was removed, lab tests showed it to be benign. She will just need routine neurosurgery check-ups in addition to working on her fine and large motor skills in therapy.
Embracing new technology
The best medical care is a blend of highly-trained and experienced providers and the latest advances in technology. Raven’s surgery exemplified this as her neurosurgery team had just recently began using the Olympus ORBEYE™ exoscope, a video microscope that allows surgeons to view the structure of tissue, blood vessels and other anatomical features in 3D, at up to 26 times magnification. In addition to the high-level of magnification, the ORBEYE offers 4K 3D resolution on a 55-inch monitor specifically designed by Sony and Olympus for use in the operating room.
“Every moment is critical in surgery – precious time can be saved with specialized equipment that allows for natural three-dimensional vision, a wide-range magnification and working distance, excellent visibility, and versatility during surgical procedures,” said Dr. Chen.
Dr. Chen noted neurosurgeries can range from 2 hours to up to 9 hours for complicated brain tumor cases. In this regard, the comfort of the surgeons is an important factor.
“We are all used to wearing really heavy eye loupes and a headlight, but this technology allows us to do our longer surgeries in a more heads-up, ergonomic position,” she said.
The high resolution and magnification help surgeons see greater anatomical detail, such as tissue boundaries, blood vessels and lesions. In addition, the whole surgical team can view the same image.
Akron Children’s was the nation’s first independent children’s hospital to purchase the ORBEYE exoscope. It was championed by the neurosurgery team, it will be used by a variety of other pediatric surgical specialists at Children’s.
From ‘nothing too worrisome’ to surreal news
Raven’s journey to the OR began in November 2020 when her parents noticed she was not using her left hand and arm as normal. Her pediatrician ruled out a broken bone, but when things didn’t improve, Raven was referred to Pediatric Neurology at Akron Children’s.
She was also seen by an occupational therapist, who noticed Raven had a limp while walking and her running looked more like galloping. Neurology then ordered an EEG and MRI, and the tumor on the right side of her brain was found.
“They said they did not want to wait on this,” said Jamie. “That was the moment of disbelief, when you think she’s only 4, how does this stuff just happen? We were expecting to go home after the MRI but we spent the night in the hospital and the next day she was in surgery.”
Almost immediately after surgery, Raven was sitting up, asking for water, and talking as normal. No chemotherapy or radiation was needed. She will need follow-up MRIs every 3 months for a year, continued therapy, and will stay under neuro-oncology’s watch for 10 years.
Her vision is a little blurred on the left side, so she is also being following by the hospital’s Vision Center.
After that rough start in June, Raven gone on to have a fun summer of backyard play and swimming with her sisters – Marley, 6, and Autumn, 2, and older brother, Ronnie, 16.
“She’s still the happiest 4-year-old girl despite all of this,” said Jamie.
She loves music, dancing and mermaids, especially Ariel from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”
“We’re just trying to live a normal life,” said Jamie. “Sometimes I stop to think all of this happened just over a month ago. Every day is a blessing.”