For updates on Courtney's journey, be sure to LIKE her page at https://www.facebook.com/gilbertsretirementfund
For the past several years, Courtney's health has slowly but surely deteriorated. At first it was trouble sleeping. Then the pain and weakness on the left side of her body began. Issues with her vision being blurred and doubled followed, and she is now almost completely blind in her left eye. The headaches were always there, but have evolved into constant, pulsating migraines so severe they leave her unable to get out of bed on the really bad days. On the good days, she can still manage to get through an 8 hour work day, but that's about all she is capable of. Her memory, especially short term, has deteriorated - and she suffers from other cognitive defecits as well.
She has been to many doctors over the years trying to find answers. In January 2013, an MRI was finally ordered to try to find the cause of her progressively worsening symptoms. She had already undergone numerous tests to rule out a vitamin deficiency, Lyme Disease, Lupus, Myasthenia Gravis, Multiple Sclerosis, and a host of other disorders and diseases. All tests were coming back normal and Courtney was beginning to feel that she'd never get to the bottom of what was wrong.
As it turns out, the problem is "all in her head"...literally! The MRI revealed a 1.7 centimeter tumor in the middle of her brain, right on top of her pineal gland. Courtney named it Gilbert due to its size and uncanny resemblance to a grape. Doctors do not believe Gilbert is mailgnant, but the only way to know for sure is to remove it and send it off for biopsy. The tumor is compressing vital structures within her brain (including her optic nerve, which is what allows you to see). Eventually, as it gets bigger, Courtney could develop hydrocephalus (a backup of fluid in the brain), a damaging and potentially life-threatening condition.
Because Gilbert is located so deep inside Courtney's brain, she was told by surgeons in Virginia that operating was too dangerous given that the mass is not thought to be cancerous (actually, this is one of the most dangerous brain surgeries there is!), and that she should learn to live with the symptoms as best as possible until the tumor causes hydrocephalus, and to just keep getting MRI's to measure its growth. Basically, they blew her off. Surgery would require a very large portion of her skull to be removed and cause a lot of trauma to healthy brain tissue just to get to the mass, possibly creating more problems than it would solve. Surgeons refer to this nine hour operation as an "open craniotomy" and will not subject someone to it unless it is absolutely necessary to save a life because it is extremely invasive and carries a high risk of complications or even death.
Thankfully, Courtney located a surgeon in Los Angeles who is performing revolutionary minimally invasive surgery on pineal tumors. His name is Dr. Shahinian. His method to operate on tumors in this area of the brain is to remove only a dime-sized portion of skull and follow the brain's natural pathways to get to the tumor to remove it. This minimizes the risk a lot. Courtney consulted with him in May and his recommendation was that it's time to force Gilbert into an early retirement. He explained that the human pineal gland is only a half centimeter in size and that a 1.7 centimeter tumor in this area of the brain is most certainly cause for concern and causing her debilitating symptoms. He confirmed that in order for Courtney to regain her quality of life and find relief from her constant headaches, vision loss, and cognitive deficits, that an operation to remove her pineal tumor is necessary. Courtney was terrified but also releived that she wouldn't have to suffer any longer.
(You can learn more about the pain that pineal tumors cause as well as watch Dr. Shahinian perform the endoscopic surgery by watching this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Fbj2h3NrKM
Unfortunately, because his treatment is so state of the art and groundbreaking, Courtney has encountered difficulties getting her health insurance provider to agree to cover any of Dr. Shahinian's fees. Over the last 6 months and despite how ill she feels, she has made endless calls, written to senators and congressmen, made multiple appeals, and was even interviewed by WAVY TV, a local news station...all with the hope that her insurance company would do the right thing and help to cover at least a portion of Dr. Shahinian's fees. To date, her efforts have not been successful.
Courtney is currently on a daily regimen of medicine which at least allows her to function during the work day. Beyond that, her activities have been severely limited. Due to the incessant migraines, she is usually unable to tolerate loud noises and sunlight, so she spends a good deal of time in her darkened bedroom. She has lost touch with many friends over the years. Driving is becoming increasingly difficult for her due to her vision being so poor. Courtney used to enjoy going to concerts - this also is hardly ever possible anymore. She is very much alive, but has not been able to "live" for some time now.
Courtney has reached a point where she is unable to continue fighting and has made the decision to move ahead with the surgery with the understanding that she is financially responsible for Dr. Shahinian's fees. It is scheduled for December 26th in Los Angeles, California. This site was set up in the hopes of defraying some of the costs associated with her surgery. The total cost is upwards of $30,000. Every little bit helps. Even if you cannot contribute financially at this time, words of encouragement and support are worth their weight in gold. Even a simple "Like" or sharing this link to your social media platforms would mean a lot. Thank you for your time and consideration to this cause - because Gilbert's Gotta Go!