New tool a success in brain tumor surgery

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by Jay Crandall

azfamily.com

Posted on August 22, 2014 at 7:21 PM

Updated Monday, Aug 25 at 10:19 AM

PHOENIX -- It is the kind of story that makes you stop and think, "How is that possible?"

Just hours after a man had brain surgery, he shared his story with us.

“And here I am right now, speaking and laughing and joking and talking to my family, talking to you guys. It is amazing,” Ed Cerninka said.

And while at first glance it might not seem all that amazing, when you look at the bandage on the side of his head and realize that just over 24 hours ago he was headed into the operating room for brain surgery, his story takes on extra significance.

“This is the size of the tumor that was in my brain,” Cerninka said as he held up a golfball.

Doctors found that tumor after Cerninka had a seizure about a month ago.

“I tried to call and text a friend of mine and I couldn't do either or," he remembered. "I couldn't speak. I couldn't type."

And while the tumor could be removed, the first neurosurgeon told Cerninka that doing so could mean Cerninka would never be able to tell his story.

“He had a lot of negative things that could have happened to me: being paralyzed, not being able to speak," Cerninka said.

Then he found Dr. Marco Marsella, who explained why reaching tumors can be such a tricky business.

“Once the brain cortex has been opened and violated by the surgeon, you see nothing but a white sort of cream, if I can use this term. Then you really don't know what you are cutting through," Marsella said.

That white cream is full of nerves affecting everything from speech to vision and memory.

And until now, surgeons simply had to take the shortest route to tumors.

"Again it was in order to minimize potential deficits to take the shortest path," Marsella said. "But again this is not necessarily the best path.”

But luckily for Cerninka, he did find Marsella at Abrazo Health's Phoenix Baptist Hospital. Marsella is the only surgeon in Arizona trained on a new surgical tool, the NICO BrainPath.

First a special MRI shows in color all those brain tracts where a surgeon sees only white matter. Then this tool helps insert a plastic port.

“It looks sharp; it is not sharp,” Marsella said. “The tip is very dull.”

They are actually pushing aside that white matter instead of cutting through it. The port acts as a tunnel through which doctors operate. In Cerninka’s case, that golfball-sized tumor came out through a port less than an inch in diameter.

”I feel a little sore from the procedure, but I know that will go away in two, three, four days," he told 3TV.

And he and his family say they will happily take that over the alternative.

"We are all here right now, and we are all happy and we are going to move on," Cerninka said.

Cerninka and his family talked to 3TV because they want people to know about this new tool. They also want to make sure people take the time to get a second opinion. They say if they had not done so, the results could have been much different.

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