Shawn Neal with Students

Three weeks after having brain surgery to remove a rare type of tumor at Wellstar MCG Health, Shawn Neal was incredulous at how quickly her life was returning to normal.

“It’s crazy! Like, I’ll be walking around my house and I’m like, ‘I just had brain surgery.’ It’s just hard to believe,” she said.

Despite an eight-hour surgery, she only leaned on painkillers twice to manage her pain afterward, when it became significant. Otherwise, her regimen consisted of acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

“That’s unheard of! I mean, just incredible. Here I’ve had an eight-hour brain surgery, and I’m just using Tylenol and ibuprofen,” she said.

Within a month, Neal returned to her job as a dental hygienist at the Dental College of Georgia at Augusta University completely cancer free.

Her neurosurgeon, Dr. Salman Ali, also pointed out that she was able to stay local for her care.

“She doesn’t have to travel to go somewhere to get treatment. We can do this in-house,” he said.

That was very important to Neal, who is a 49-year-old single mother of two and foster mom to several rescue animals.Shawn's scar

Neal had no symptoms of cancer. She was, however, having symptoms from a concussion she sustained in an accident, such as memory issues and headaches. She went to a neurologist, who ordered an MRI. That’s when the tumor was discovered growing out of a nerve in her brain.

It is a very rare type of brain tumor, and surgery is complicated because it requires carefully separating the good nerves from the damaged nerves in order to take the tumor out, said Dr. Ali, a neurosurgeon at Wellstar MCG Health and assistant professor of neurosurgery and director of skull base and pituitary at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.

When Neal first received the diagnosis from another physician, it was recommended that she be monitored every six months to see if the tumor grew.  Ali said he felt confident he could remove the whole tumor, at which point Neal would be cured and not need additional treatments like chemotherapy or radiation.

This type of nerve tumor is very rare. Only one person in about 4 million will have it, Ali said. It arises from the nerve that provides sensation to the face. Damage to it would hinder a patient’s ability to feel a gentle touch to their face.

In developing a plan to remove it, Ali considered factors beyond merely saving her life. For him, the impact of surgery on a patient’s quality of life after brain surgery is equally as important. His philosophy exemplifies Wellstar’s dedication to fostering a culture of care that goes beyond treatment....


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