Woman travels from Norway to Phoenix for rare, risky spine surgery


by Natalie Brand


Posted on April 17, 2014 at 10:42 PM

Updated Thursday, Apr 17 at 11:00 PM

PHOENIX -- Watching Julie Stendal gracefully walk down the hall of St. Joseph’s Barrow Neurological Institute, it’s hard to believe the 26-year-old faced the possibility of paralysis due to an unusual growth of blood vessels on her spine.

Six years ago, Stendal, who is from Norway, was diagnosed with a rare disorder called arteriovenous malformation, or AVM, which resulted in hemorrhaging.

“It hurt so bad. I’ve never been in that much pain before,” Stendal recalled.

As a result of the internal bleeding, she experienced loss of feeling in her arms and hands.

Doctors in Europe told Stendal her treatment options were limited.

“They said to remove it or do a surgery would be too risky,” Stendal said.

However, if left untreated, the result could have been paralysis and life on a ventilator.

Stendal’s neurosurgeon in Norway recommended Dr. Robert Spetzler, Director of St. Joseph’s Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix.

Several years ago, Spetzler developed a special technique to remove this exact type of growth.

“Through serendipity, I was able to discover that you could do that,” he explained.

So, Stendal and her mother flew thousands of miles from home for a shot at a normal life. Her surgery was a success and Spetzler described her prognosis as "excellent."

“I can’t really believe it yet,” Stendal said.

“To me, it’s a miracle,” said Stendal’s mother, Kjersti Loevland. “Dr. Spetzler and his team, I don’t have words for it.”

“She’s happy; that makes me happy,” Spetzler said, smiling alongside Stendal.

Her release is scheduled for Easter Sunday.

“She is just perfect for the resurrection associated with Easter, her ability to have a completely normal life,” he said.

“I’m just really happy that this place exists,” Stendal said.