For Missy Okelberry and her 13-year-old son, Thomas, it was just another busy Saturday. But a phone call on their way home from Thomas' soccer game dramatically changed their lives. Thomas had been experiencing months of severe dizziness and headaches. The week prior he had gone to see his pediatrician, Irene Chen, M.D., who had the foresight to schedule a CT scan. The phone call was from a doctor at Sutter Roseville's Emergency Department to let them know Thomas' scan showed a tumor in his cerebellum and they needed to head to Sutter Children's Center, Sacramento where a team would be waiting for them.
"We were in complete shock," Okelberry says. "Thomas was old enough to know the seriousness of a brain tumor. And as his mom, I had to be there for him, but I was terrified as well."
Thomas was admitted to Sutter Children's Center, and the following day he had a three-hour MRI to identify the location of the tumor. Shortly afterward they received a visit from Samuel Ciricillo, M.D., pediatric neurosurgeon and medical director of neurosurgery. Dr. Ciricillo explained that Thomas had a juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma —a tumor in his cerebellum — and that surgery he had to have surgery as soon as possible.
"Dr. Ciricillo was very direct, but at the same time very comforting," Okelberry says. "He was sure that he would be successful in removing the tumor."
The next day, Thomas underwent an open craniotomy. After surgery, Dr. Ciricillo updated his parents and let them know that he was confident he removed the entire tumor. Soon after, they learned that the tumor was not cancerous.
Thomas started speech and physical therapy so he could begin his road to recovery. But he wasn't alone; he had a huge support system pulling for him, including visits by his family, friends and even his coaches. Less than a week later, he was able to leave the hospital and continue his recovery at home. A month later he was cleared for school, and he was even able to go back to playing soccer.
"For us, we have seen a miracle," Okelberry says. "To have a child recover so quickly and return to full activities is such a powerful example of modern medicine at its best! I just feel like we had the very best care and support through the whole process. From the nursing staff to the therapists, and Dr. Ciricillo — he is my hero."
Okelberry added: "We would also feel remiss if we didn't say how thankful we are to have such a caring and wonderful pediatrician in Dr. Irene Chen."