By-The-Books Treatment For a Teacher

“They cared about me not as just a patient, but as a person.”

Every season brings its own pleasures to living in Highland Lakes in Sussex County, NJ, whether it’s boating in the summer, leaf-peeping in the fall, snowshoeing in the winter, or fishing in the freshwater lake in the spring.

For retired teacher and school librarian Kate Cammarata, 60, another season means more time to enjoy life in her beloved lake community since undergoing gamma knife stereotactic radiosurgery to treat a brain tumor.

What started as random twitches of her right eye, and then progressed to persistent eye-twitching and weakness in the side of her mouth, was diagnosed in 2015 as the consequences of a grape-sized meningioma that was growing inside her brain and infiltrating her facial nerve. The critically important facial nerve controls the muscles of facial expression, and although a meningioma is a non-cancerous tumor, it can compress brain tissue and become dangerous or even life-threatening.

“The risk to Ms. Cammarata was that the tumor most likely would have continued to grow and creep into the bone of her skull and cause more damage as it further entwined her facial nerve,” notes Anthony D’Ambrosio, M.D., Director of Neurosurgery at Valley and Co-Director of the Valley Gamma Knife Center, a component of The Valley Institute for Brain Surgery.

The Best Treatment Method

Because of the meningioma’s complex location in Kate’s brain, surgery to remove the tumor could have resulted in more extensive impairment and facial paralysis. Instead, Dr. D’Ambrosio and Gamma Knife Center Co-Director and radiation oncologist Chad DeYoung, M.D., used Valley’s highly advanced non-surgical Gamma Knife Perfexion™ System to treat the tumor with precise beams of radiation that came together to create a powerful, targeted dose of concentrated radiation. “Gamma knife technology is the only platform of its type that is strictly designed for treating the brain and has more than 40 years of research data attesting to its success,” explains Dr. D’Ambrosio

Despite its name, gamma knife radiosurgery is not surgery but an outpatient procedure performed at Valley’s Blumenthal Cancer Center at the Robert and Audrey Luckow Pavilion in Paramus.

Gamma knife technology is ideal for treating patients like Kate, whose tumors are in difficult locations, or for patients who, because of other medical conditions, are not candidates for brain surgery. The treatment does not require general anesthesia, and patients do not need to stop any of their regular medications for the procedure. The gamma knife’s 192 individual beams of radiation cause no damage to tissues they pass through, but where all 192 beams converge, a lethal dose of radiation is delivered very quickly, often in less than 45 minutes.

“Our goals with Ms. Cammarata were to treat the tumor, minimize any damage to healthy brain tissue, and preserve her vital life tasks so she will remain the person she has always been,” remarks Dr. D’Ambrosio. “One year later, her MRI showed that the tumor responded to treatment and is now stable and shrinking away from the facial nerve. Her progress was exactly as we had expected, and her long-term prognosis is for an excellent quality of life.”

Compassionate, Comprehensive Care

Kate marvels that the personalized care delivered to her by the Gamma Knife Center team was unique from other medical experiences in the past, and that she and her wife, Lyle Timpson, felt supported every step of the way. They are now enjoying the quiet, picturesque landscape of winter in Highland Lakes, as they look forward to a busier spring. Every October, Kate will return to Valley for an MRI to assess her progress and a consultation with Dr. D’Ambrosio.

“I cannot say enough about Dr. D’Ambrosio, Dr. DeYoung, and the entire team, says Kate. “They cared about me not as just a patient, but as a person. Their compassion, concern, and ability to listen to us and answer questions went above and beyond and was truly a unique experience. Their follow-up care has been extraordinary.”

* This procedure may not be suitable for every patient. All patients must be evaluated by a physician as to the appropriateness of performing the procedure. The above testimonial represents the individual’s response and reaction to the procedure; however, no medical procedure is risk-free. Associated potential risks and complications should be discussed with the physician rendering this procedure.