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Kelly Stafford Is Learning Her “New Normal” After 12-Hour Brain Tumor Surgery

Prevention logo Prevention 4/23/2019 Korin Miller
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(video courtesy TODAY)
  • Kelly Stafford, wife of Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, is back home and resting after a 12-hour brain surgery.
  • Stafford shared in early April that she was experiencing symptoms of a rare, benign tumor known as an acoustic neuroma.
  • Neurosurgeons explain the symptoms of an acoustic neuroma, how the tumor is treated, and what recovery after surgery looks like.

© AP/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK Kelly Stafford, the wife of Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, is back home and resting after having surgery to remove a brain tumor. Stafford shared on Instagram in early April that she had a benign tumor known as an acoustic neuroma that was sitting on her cranial nerves.

Now, she has posted an update on her recovery on Instagram. “This Easter is the beginning of a new life for me,” she shared alongside photos of herself in a wheelchair, slowly walking down a hospital hallway, and at home with her family. “I wanna take a second to thank all of you for all the prayers. They have worked. I know they have.”

Stafford revealed that, during her surgery, she had an “abnormal vein,” that her doctor just so happened to have seen before and written a paper on. “A six hour surgery went to 12 hours and although they were anxious and scared, your prayers got them through,” she wrote. “Thank you. Thank you so much. Now I am home and learning my new norm. It’ll take some time, but I really just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for all your support, thoughts and prayers. It means more than y’all will ever know.”

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Kelly Stafford (@kbstafford89) on Apr 21, 2019 at 4:35pm PDT

Stafford also shared on her Instagram stories that she was “sitting in this dark room in pain” but trying to hold off on using medication because she wanted to be coherent when she saw her children. “Balancing, in general, is incredibly hard right now,” she wrote. “Balancing kids and brain surgery is nearly impossible.”

When Stafford opened up about her diagnosis in early April on Instagram, she said she had several dizzy spells that eventually led her to see a doctor. An MRI revealed her tumor.

What is an acoustic neuroma, exactly?

An acoustic neuroma, aka a vestibular schwannoma, is a rare growth that develops on the eighth cranial nerve, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). That nerve runs from your inner ear to your brain, and it is responsible for hearing and balance. The tumor doesn’t spread to other parts of the body. Unfortunately, doctors don’t know why these tumors form, and most seem to happen for no apparent reason.

Acoustic neuromas seem to be more common in women than men but, again, they’re rare. About one in 100,000 people in the general population are affected by these tumors, NORD says. “These are not very common and are, fortunately, benign,” says John Lee, MD, a neurosurgeon at Penn Medicine.

What are the symptoms of an acoustic neuroma?

There actually isn’t a standard way that symptoms develop with an acoustic neuroma, NORD says. However, someone might initially have hearing loss that gets progressively worse in one ear-that happens in about 90 percent of people with this tumor. Other symptoms include ringing in the ear (known as tinnitus), and issues with dizziness or balance.

In her initial Instagram post revealing her tumor on April 3, Stafford wrote: “Within the last year, I began to notice things that I thought was just me getting older.. I would show my girls how to do a front roll or twirl in ballet class and immediately feel dizzy & off balance... Things that I had been doing my entire life were now, all of a sudden, difficult.”

The symptoms happen from the tumor pressing against the eighth cranial nerve, disrupting its ability to send nerve signals to the brain, NORD says. However, if someone has a small tumor, they may not have any symptoms at all.

In some cases, an acoustic neuroma can become large enough to press against nearby cranial nerves. That can cause facial weakness or paralysis, facial numbness or tingling, and issues swallowing.

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A post shared by Kelly Stafford (@kbstafford89) on Apr 3, 2019 at 7:27am PDT

How is an acoustic neuroma treated?

Treatment ultimately depends on the size of the tumor and the symptoms someone is experiencing. If the tumor is small and isn’t causing symptoms, doctors may simply want to observe it. However, if it is bothering a patient or seems to be growing, it may be removed through surgery (like Stafford had) or doctors will use radiation to try to stop it from growing.

What is recovery like from brain surgery?

There are a few risks that come with surgery, including the possibility of facial paralysis and hearing loss, NORD says. Patients may also have headaches, eye problems, the inability to close their eyelid on the affected side, and double vision.

Recovery from the surgery varies by patient and the size of the tumor, says Garni Barkhoudarian, MD, a neurosurgeon at the John Wayne Cancer Institute and the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. Usually, a patient will be in the hospital for a few nights and then “we ask them to take it easy for two to three weeks,” Dr. Barkhoudarian says. In most cases, patients will be back at work in four weeks after surgery, Dr. Lee says.

While a patient is recovering, they may have dizziness and headaches but “they usually get better after a few days,” Dr. Barkhoudarian says.

Patients are encouraged to be up and moving during this time, Dr. Lee says. “We want them to be active and definitely don’t want them to be just sitting or lying in bed,” he says.

Once a person has recovered, they’re usually monitored for a few years afterward with MRIs, Dr. Barkhoudarian says. If some of the tumor was left behind (which may happen in some cases), a patient will need to be monitored for life.

In general, people can do really well after having this surgery and go back to their normal lives. “Recovery can be very, very good,” Dr. Lee says.

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