“I really pushed myself because I wanted to get out of there,” Christina says of the strenuous rehab sessions that began just days after she awakened. “I wanted to get out by my birthday, August 31, and I made it, one day before.”
Soon she resumed her 9th grade school work at home, wearing a helmet to protect the area where the portion of her skull was still missing. She stayed mostly indoors for a few months, because “I didn’t want to be seen that way.” She also set another deadline – this time for the medical team. “We had to have her major treatment items done before Christmas,” Tyagi recalls. “It was very important to her.”
That meant reattaching the piece of skull, and also performing a delicate procedure designed to eliminate all remnants of the AVM – so it could never rupture and bleed again.
For that, Tyagi enlisted Atif Khan, an associate professor of radiation oncology at the medical school, whose specialty is using a Gamma Knife, a device that destroys malignant cells with radiation. It was Khan’s job to demolish Christina’s abnormal blood vessels. Guided by imaging technology, Tyagi showed Khan which delicate structures of the brain he needed to avoid, and Khan did the rest.
Advanced technology protects the healing brain
“We used headgear that resembles the ladies who used to sit under the drying machines with curlers in their hair,” says Tyagi. “Imagine that the curlers can shoot. You choose angles from which brain tissue won’t be damaged, and then shoot multiple beams to deliver a high dose to the spot you want with submillimeter accuracy.”
As recently as 10 years ago, says Tyagi, trying to eliminate the abnormal vessels would have produced significant complications, because the risk of damaging brain tissue would have been too high. Now, she says, “it’s a one-day process and it’s much more precise, only possible because we have a great team of subspecialists, and the latest technology.”
Christina got her Christmas wish. She was all back together by mid-December, and since then has progressed even more, picking up where she had left off at the dance studio. In June, she gave a stirring jazz dance recital.
The one lingering vestige of her stroke appears to be her memory. Christina feels she needs to work harder to retain what she learns at school. With cognitive therapy, that, too, is getting better. “I’m feeling great,” Christina says. “I think I’ve recovered really well.” That, in turn, means everything to her physician. “It makes staying up at night, phone calls at 3 in the morning, all worth it,” says Rachana Tyagi. “It’s the best reward you could ever ask for.”
Members of the media are invited to contact Rob Forman of Rutgers Media Relations at [email protected]